As soon as this evening's Florida debate ended, the MSNBC TV commentators were wondering how it would have looked to "someone who was seeing these candidates for the first time."

Why didn't they just ask me?

This is the first debate among the Republicans that I've seen at full length and in real time.* So factoring in all the expectations I'd gathered from coverage (Romney too weaselly, McCain really the strongest one, Huckabee a charmer, etc), how did it look?

Romney by a mile. More precisely, the only candidate you could imagine putting up a plausible general-election fight. Again, I'm not handicapping the GOP race, which I know nothing about. I'm not saying how each candidate did relative to previous appearances. I am telling you how this one debate looked if you had never seen these guys on the same stage before.

McCain, Giuliani, and Huckabee all notably ill at ease when asked to say anything about the economy. (Huckabee: building two new lanes on I-95, Maine to Florida, as an energy saving measure???) When Romney asked Giuliani a specific question about how to deal with China, the answer reminded me of the way I would sound if asked to fill 90 seconds discussing my favorite fashion designers. McCain attempting to describe his economy policy by listing his advisors. (Jack Kemp?) The more the economy matters as The general election issue, the less this will cut it -- and the more Romney can use at least the veneer of his being able to discuss the issue.

Two other random points:
- Boy, do these people hate Hillary Clinton! Her name was mentioned at least ten times as often as George Bush's (and all Bush mentions, that I heard, were from Romney).

- The intrusiveness and badgering nature of Tim Russert's questions! I wonder whether the two parties will subject themselves to another presidential cycle of "debating" on these demeaning terms.

Here endeth the report from outer space.

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* (Amazingly enough, they're not carried on TV in China. Real-time webcasts are not that easy to find, and the connections are too slow any way.)

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