First Take: The Final Republican Debate

The headline is that no one laid a glove on Mike Huckabee. And that Mitt Romney had a hell of a good afternoon. He seemed more sinewy than usual, less programmed, quite (dare we say) presidential, and even-tempered.

The debate format was not given to exchanges, and the moderator peremptorily took immigration off the table. The audience did not cheer, really, or validate, or boo.
Romney and Huckabee were like two cultivars of fine Iowa maize.

Both appealed directly to middle class Iowans. Romney said he was concerned about the tax burden on middle class families and promised health insurance for all by the end of his first term.

Huckabee invoked his humble origins and said that elected officials ought to “not represent the elite, but represent the ordinary.” Romney arguably had the stronger day, but he needed to upstage Huckabee without seeming to attack him. Romney repeatedly returned to his core message, and had ample time to remind Iowans of his executive experience and his record on education and health care.

Giuliani was challenged on the mistress security expense issue and used the occasion to remind people that he is mortal. “On the issue of transparency, I can’t think of a public figure who has led a more transparent life.”

Fred Thompson was smart, funny, irascible and consistent, and probably helped his standing here. He even got in a good dig at Romney.

John McCain seemed tired, Ron Paul was Ron Paul, and Alan Keyes wasn’t making sense.