My debate impression. The good news is that they all understand that the Iraq war has been a disaster in terms of execution. No one defended Bush's handling of it - who can? - but McCain's strong criticism of a "badly mismanaged" war gave him the edge in my book. McCain was easily the strongest on spending (although, of course, my softest spot on that front was for Ron Paul). He also forthrightly supported evolution which puts him in the ranks of sane Republicans, unlike three others (or did I count right? Who were they?). I have to say I found Romney smarmy beyond even my expectations. The man will obviously say and do anything to get power or please a crowd. His low-point: "Gosh, I love America." Really? Giuliani is simply not a very impressive speaker or debater, and his chilling call for a tamper-proof I.D. card for all immigrants sent shivers up my spine. His ability to defend abortion rights was, however, impressive if only because it required offending someone. At this point in the primary campaign, that counts for something. When Thompson was asked if he'd be fine with a private employer firing someone because he's gay, he gave what seemed to me to be a good reflection of what he thought the base wanted to hear. A libertarian defense would have included some bromide about the right to fire anyone. But Thompson knows that the current Republican party rewards the candidate the most hostile to gay people. That depresses me, of course, but it isn't news. They really do despise us - more now than ever.

As for foreign policy, very little nuance, very little subtlety, almost no fresh thinking. Conservatism now means simply projecting something called "strength" rather than articulating something called strategy. On the question of thinking through the lessons of Iraq, they seemed frozen. On the question of Iran, they never seemed to include any understanding of what constraints Iraq has placed on us. Just bomb them and kill them and we'll "win". That was about as sophisticated as it got (with the modest exception of McCain's endorsement of Petraeus). And these people seem more aware of the Islamist threat than the Democrats. That's the state of the country and those entrusted with its defense.

(Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty.)