Having had a little time to think about it, and taking my obvious pro-Ron Paul sentiment into account, I think the four best performers tonight were certainly Hunter, Huckabee, Gilmore and Paul. In terms of actual policy views, Hunter managed to make himself less interesting to me with his frequent turn to jingoism. This will probably only help him in the primaries. Paul performed well, and made the most of limited opportunities he was given, but his absolutely right focus on foreign policy and civil liberties is probably not going to pull in a lot of votes.
For those who have not seen a lot of him, Romney probably seemed to put on a good show, but no one can really buy what this guy is selling. His entire persona annoys me at this point. Perhaps I am too negative, but if that is what wins debates it is a sad day indeed. He merits maybe fifth or sixth place. McCain performed competently, probably earning fifth or sixth place overall, but he by no means dominated, despite being given all the time in the world. Giuliani fared pretty poorly, all things considered, and could not cease mentioning Reagan in virtually every answer. Virtually everyone did this, but Giuliani’s constant Reagan talk was embarrassing. Thompson was fairly effective on policy questions and handled the format all right, but just didn’t put together a complete performance. He repeated himself on how many things he had vetoed, which didn’t help. Unfortunately, Tancredo did pretty badly. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is out before Ames.
Update: I should add that there was virtually nothing in this crowd that is going to persuade people alienated by Bush. The only one to diverge from Bush on foreign policy was Dr. Paul, and he did so capably, but the overwhelming impression the other nine gave to the uncommitted and disaffected was that the basic feature of the Bush administration that most offends them, its foreign policy, will remain fundamentally unchanged. In the contest between the tired, cranky interventionists and the smoother interventionists, the latter will win. There is no evidence of substantial change or an appreciably new direction. It’s like watching the Democrats in 1988.