* In the end Thompson did fine. He did better than fine and he even came close to the bar the press had reset - after the debate was over. CBS claimed he hadn't "dominated" the debate, which no one had suggested was necessary for a guy in second place in nearly every poll; the Chicago Tribune wrote about the who's-the-best-tax-cutter mini-debate between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani by pointing out it "took place with Thompson standing awkwardly in between" the Governor and the Mayor.
* My own take is this: Thompson did way well enough. After his nervousness at answering the first question out of the box, he settled down and used facts when necessary, rhetoric when necessary, home-spun common sense when necessary and humor when appropriate.
* Romney and Giuliani are polished debaters in this, their sixth or seventh appearance and now seem willing to go after each other: Romney because he needs to show he's still in the top tier despite being stuck in single or low-double digits in national polls; Giuliani because he can use a fight with Romney to maintain his lead over Thompson without directly engaging him.
* It didn't appear to me that Sen. John McCain was particularly on his game; his campaign had announced he had given a speech at the Detroit Economic Club at noon and it is likely he left his game in the on-deck circle there.
* The big loser was Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is still in this thing largely on the strength of his previously excellent debate performances. But whether it was the fact that Thompson was on the stage for the first time, or because Huckabee is running out of gas, he was just another second-tier guy in at the Dearborn debate.
* Final thought? Never underestimate the value of lowering expectations.