Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Huckabee gave the best performance, appearing to be the most authentic, relaxed and at ease with himself. Whether his performance can translate into the nomination might be determined by his ability to improve his name recognition. (My spell-check program flags Huckabee as misspelled, but it recognizes Giuliani, Romney, McCain and Thompson.)

In response to Romney’s comment that illegal immigrant children, who came into the country with their parents, should not be able to earn merit-based scholarships, Huckabee said, “In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that.” Clearly, the former governor of Arkansas came with his game on.

Asked about the death penalty, he said, “You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person on this stage that's ever had to actually do it.”

CNN’s Cooper pressed for more. “The question was, from the viewer was? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus support the death penalty?” Proving he was fast on his feet and could maintain a sense of humor, Huckabee answered, “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do.”

Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee responded to the question asked by Joseph from Dallas, Texas, which he delivered while holding up the King James version of the Bible. Joseph asked, “Do you believe every word of this book?

Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?”

My interpretation of the candidates answers:

Giuliani: yes and no

Romney: yes but maybe no

Huckabee: yes, but clearly it is allegorical.

McCain continued to project the image of a leader who would be tough of national security, but the former POW also held the line on torture.

Asked about waterboarding, McCain clearly stated he was against it; Romney equivocated, declaring he would not define what “was,” and what “was not” torture.

Romney’s vagueness left McCain looking tortured. “My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America.”

Well stated.

According to Cooper, the questions CNN selected for the debate were gleaned from 5,000 submissions. One topic was glaringly missing: health care. Many polls consider it and national security to be the top two issues of the 2008 election among likely voters. Big miss for the content keepers, CNN and YouTube.

The debate ended with a question about baseball, Yankees and Giuliani rooting for the Red Sox. Neither the question nor the answers it evoked offered anything of value other than to serve as a fitting close for a debate that began with a video and a ditty.

Maybe once the writer’s strike is over, and comedy is once again reclaimed by Stewart and Colbert, we can begin a push for serious political debates in style of the Lincoln – Douglas debates: 90 minutes, two candidates, all issues and no moderator. Now that would be a great debate.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.