Romney: We need to invest more into R & D, make the tax cuts permanent, “stop the housing crisis” & reduce our dependence on oil.
McCain: Some jobs aren’t coming back, Education is key for those who’ve lost jobs. We aren’t heading for a recession.
CWallace: What about shortterm?
McCain: Cut gov’t. spending. He’s dissing South Carolinians by talking about Michigan alot. Otherwise nondescript answer.

As expected, Ron Paul gave the wierdest answer, saying that we’re in a recession, then saying that “we don’t know when it’ll come.” Then he dug his hole deeper, saying that we’ve delayed a serious recession.

Fred had a great answer, saying that he’ll defend Rudy’s tax cut plan because “it sounds an awful lot like the plan I introduced months ago.” He then stated that revenues are always more than the so-called experts predict before saying that “we’ve got too many two-handed economists”, saying on the one hand this, on the other hand that.

McCain should get off the climate change kick. That isn’t a selling point with conservatives.

Health Care/Abortion Rights question to Mitt:

Mitt: That wasn’t my decision. The courts mandated that coverage. “My term as governor was decidedly pro life.” (WRONG!!! As I said here, Gov. Romney knew about that decision before signing the bill. He put a higher priority on the signing the health care bill than on preserving life.)

Huckster talks about rebuilding the Reagan coalition, denying he said it was dead. Immediately following that, Fred jumps in with “a bigger point to make.” Fred then says that Huckster got the NEA endorsement because “he’d veto a bill for school vouchers. Fred then says that Huckabee has a liberal vision of foreign policy of blame America first. Fred then said that Huckabee has said that he’d sign a federal ban on smoking. “So much for federalism and states rights.” Fred also got in a great shot on Huckabee for wanting to “close down Gitm”, giving terrorists access to our courts. That’ll leave a mark in South Carolina.

Huckabee’s brightest spot was in saying that he trusted the Navy commanders in their handling of the incident in the Straits. Fred had a brilliant moment, first sayign that he agreed with “the Governor”, then saying if the Iranians “had taken one more step, I think we would’ve introduced them to those virgins they’re always talking about.” After a huge roar of applause, Fred then showed his expertise, saying that the Revolutionary Guard clearly was in charge and that “they’ll be more frisky.”

On the subject of Pakistan, Chris Wallace asked what a Thompson administration would do, especially with polls showing support for Musharraf dropping & people wanting us to cut off aid to Pakistan’s military.

Fred: Go against a poll? Nobody does that, do they? Then getting serious, Fred says that stabilizing Pakistan is our highest priority because it’s the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons. Fred said that calling for Musharraf’s resignation was irresponsible, asking replace him with who? He also says that we need to pressure Musharraf to go after terrorists in tribal regions more.

Finally Immigration:

Huckabee gave the worst answer, saying “It isn’t our job to round up those who are here illegally and put them at the back of the line.
McCain’s answer was little better, saying that comprehensive immigration didn’t pass because We The People didn’t trust government. He’s right about that but it goes much deeper than that. We The People rose up because the bill sucked.
Fred’s answer that we “need to be a nation of high fences and wide gates and only we get to decide when to open those gates.” Fred then described his plan of enforcement through attrition. He’d eliminate sanctuary cities. If they refused to cooperate with the feds, then they’d lose fed discretionary spending money.

Overall, I thought Fred won because he was engaged, gave flawless policy answers and did a great job of drawing contrasts with Huckabee. Huckabee didn’t have a good night. Fred ridiculed his foreign policy for sounding like a Democrat (it does.) and for his wanting to close Gitmo.

I thought Mitt was ok when he got the chance to answer but he wasn’t asssertive or confident.

McCain was solid in terms of his national security answers but it’s obvious that his positions on immigration and climate change aren’t helping him with conservatives. His entire strategy is to win independents. After South Carolina, that’s a failed strategy. Even in South Carolina, every independent he picks up means another conservative he doesn’t appeal to.

UPDATE: I agree with Hugh tonight:

Fred had a great night, Mitt a good one and Rudy did fine as well.

Senator McCain struggled, especially on the question of what to do if recession arrives, when he channeled Herbert Hoover and spoke only about cutting spending. His talk of global warming was a bright red flag to conservatives, and his repeating of his “change” answer from Sunday night, that he helped change the policy in Iraq, underscored the impression that he was running through some talking points he understands to be safe. “Not for profit, but for patriotism” was another example of a recycled rhetoric from Sunday. His answer on deferring to captains-at-sea was a strong point, but that was the only one. His halting and often rambling answers and occasional grimaces and winks just don’t work on television, and his immigration answers just don’t fly. He has had three sub-par debate performances in a row.

The huge loser tonight was Mike Huckabee, thanks largely to Fred and Chris Wallace who peeled the bark off of Huck’s ideology. Huck bristled at Wallace at one point, and when pushed on why he raised taxes and spending, barked back, “I raised expectations.” That might work with Democrats, though it probably doesn’t in this day and age, but it sure doesn’t work with Republican voters. Huck’s whining about the religion question was also off-putting coming from a candidate who has so often injected religion into this campaign.

Fred, Rudy and Mitt are clearly the best thinkers on stage, though they’re both more liberal than Fred. McCain’s schtick is rehearsed. It doesn’t work on TV. As I said earlier, McCain’s strange affection to global warming isn’t winning him conservative votes.

UPDATE II: Here’s some video of Fred’s strongest moments. First, Fred on the Reagan Coalition:

Then on Iranian aggression:

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

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