McCain: Is it just me or is McCain softening his tone with Romney a bit, perhaps afraid that one too many cracks last night made him look too mean? During the discussion of foreign policy experience, he was noticeably kind to Romney, ending his answer with a diplomatic, "you know, we're going to have these kind of differences" instead of running the knife in with a deeper jab.
Fred: Fred is holding court tonight whenever he speaks. He was pretty great discussing Social Security, coming off strong, courageous, changey, and unbowed by either conventional wisdom or Chris Wallace. He dwarfed the others' follow-ups in comparison. Frankly, I'll have to wait for the fact-check to see if he was dead-on on his figures, because I wasn't taking notes, but it came off very well. He really is great sitting down! Trade in the truck for a beat-up, red armchair, Fred, and tour the country!
Mitt: He has a bit more fight in him tonight, and seems a little quicker with a comeback. His answers on economics sound sincere, and I'm appreciating his rebuttals to Huck's populism. I have no particular problem with Mitt, but he rarely comes alive for me. The notable exception is when he gets talking about his businesses and economic principles, as I saw him do at a Club for Growth event earlier this year. He's hitting some of the same strains tonight. I also thought the Governors vs. Senators answer was very good. Oooh, Mitt jumps in on Huckabee's answer about illegal immigrants' children and Huck says he'd rather let Chris be the moderator, at which point Chris says, "yeah, what Mitt said. What about that?" It was another tough-looking moment for Mitt and Huck was uncharacteristically off-kilter.
Update: Yep, this is what I'm talking about with him tonight.
Huck: I was surprised Mitt got him on his heels at the beginning of the debate, on taxes. I thought it might mean he was vulnerable tonight, but he's not, really. He's too good at this. Case in point: When Chris Wallace ticked off the list of embarrassing foreign policy facts Huckabee didn't know, he talked his way out of it totally unscathed. I was watching for the sandbags to fall from the ceiling on him and the next thing I knew I was caught up in some soaring rhetoric about leadership or something. Dang you, Huckabee! Seriously, though, I don't think any other person on that stage could have slipped out of a similar question as cleanly as he did.
Rudy: It's telling that I'm mentioning him last. I'm not sure why, but he seems to have lost his mojo on the debate stage of late. His answers are good, when he speaks, but some of the charm is gone, and it's never good to hear oneself compared to Adm. Stockdale by a debate moderator. Ha. I enjoyed hearing him talk about poverty, as I always do, but I need some more crackle from him. He could jump in here and there, make a joke. If, indeed, he's relying on the Big State strategy, he can afford to expand his media exposure for the next couple weeks by taking some fun shots at the others.