Manchester, NH - There seems to be no consensus in the punditry of who "won" the Tuesday GOP debate, although John McCain and Rudy Guiliani have garnered the lion's share of praise.
Response to McCain ranges from saying he was the best he's been so far the entire campaign, to positing that he effectively ended his campaign with his aggressive support of an immigration bill that is so unpopular with the base.
McCain's only winning gambit is that his staunch, straightforward toughness and experience outweighs his positions on individual issues. It will be a tough, long fight to get there, as McCain is fond of saying about Iraq.
I thought he was admirable Tuesday. He was eloquent, stuck to his guns with reasonable arguments, and made about the best case he could for his immigration stance. He was commanding and humorous. No candidate the presidency can afford to say exactly the same thing to every crowd. That said, McCain and Barack Obama are the two first-tier candidates who deserve our praise for being as consistent in their positions even when unpopular.
Guiliani came off well too. He made compelling cases for his positions on health care reform even if I don't think they're comprehensive enough, and his defense of being pro-choice was well stated even if he should have said it earlier. And he surely looked the part of a president, even injecting humor at his own expense.
Mitt Romney looked and sounded great, unless you thought below the surface of what he said. He was very smart to emphasize looking toward the future, and the other candidates could take a page from that.
Mike Huckabee was again excellent, but has no chance.
So who won? It's hard to read how primary voters are going to react to it all, especially since still so few people are paying attention. All I can say is that for me, McCain beat Giuliani by a nose, and both seem to be hitting their stride more as we go along. That's one upside of this cycle's long run-up to the election.