Huckabee, for the most part, did not do well. He was criticized for his comment contained in an article that the Bush administration has an "arrogant bunker mentality" foreign policy, and he failed to explain himself in a way that was satisfying. In the article, he spends the first two paragraphs criticizing the Bush administration, but in the rest of the article he basically goes on to say that his foreign policy will be similar except in regards to communication. At least, that's what I got from it. In January 5th's debate, he tried to spin it - and not very successfully - to say that his criticism was aimed mainly at Rumsfeld for not sending in enough troops to get the job done right in Iraq the first time. This drew sharp criticism from his opponents (and rightfully so, it just sounded dumb). He also jumped on the opportunity to decry America's "health care crisis" as a "health crisis" again. Saying that our health care system is really a disease care system is not going to sound like an answer or a plan to what many Americans consider to be an enormous problem. How do you fix the fact that Americans don't take proper care of themselves? It's not government's job to fix that.
Romney received some much deserved criticism for his flip flopping and pandering - for his ever changing views and his refusal to answer questions. The criticism came from both McCain and from Thompson. I must confess I enjoyed this aspect of the debate very much as I can't stand Romney for these very reasons. Romney claimed himself to be an agent of change and McCain jumped in and said (paraphrased), "You and I don't agree on much, but we can agree on that. You're definitely the candidate for change!" And Thompson quoted Romney on something and Romney defended himself by saying that Thompson got that quote from AP and Romney was misquoted in the AP. Thompson said (paraphrased), "Well, when you change your position every week I guess you're bound to be misquoted from time to time."
Romney also expressed great pride (again) in his accomplishments in solving the "health care crisis" in Massachusetts. It's important here to remember that his method of "solving" the so-called "health care crisis" was to mandate that everybody in the state had to have health insurance. People below a certain income level had insurance provided to them by the state, and people above a certain income level (three times poverty level in the state, whatever that is) were required to get insurance through their employer or purchase it on their own. If they choose not to obtain insurance, they face fines and penalties. Thompson asked Romney what penalties people face if they don't obtain insurance and Romney dodged. Thompson persisted and Romney, with an irritated air, said that he would answer the question - but then distracted and dodged again. He never answered. Romney said that he, as president, would not mandate health insurance at the national level, but he would withhold certain federal funds from states that wouldn't implement a plan to insure everyone in the state.
Romney spoke with conviction and passion on many issues, interrupting anybody and everybody to get his two cents in. The problems I have with Romney are twofold. One, his conviction and passion can be seen on display at other times, in other elections, on the opposite side of almost every issue. And two, he's a liberal who claims to be a conservative and thinks that if he just says enough times that he's conservative I'm going to believe him.
Ron Paul... ah, where to begin? I saw Ron Paul on the Glenn Beck show and he spoke clearly and concisely about his thoughts and beliefs. I ended up thinking that I didn't want him as a president, but that the people of Texas are probably well served by having him in Congress. But in a debate setting, Paul appears much less reasonable, clear, and concise. He comes off as whiny more often than not, and has trouble answering any question without flipping his lid about Iraq or the value of the dollar, sometimes including both complaints in one answer. He, I believe, very sincerely wants the U.S. to strictly adhere to the Constitution, but he seems to forget that the Constitution does give the federal government the authority to provide for the defense of the country. Paul's position is that the United States is attacked by the terrorists because we "occupy" their countries and we need to pull out of the middle east entirely (including embassies, because this is "occupation" according to Ron Paul). Thus, in every debate, he ends up sounding coherent only every other sentence and ends up looking to me like a certifiable whack job.
McCain -- I must confess I have trouble articulating what McCain's stances appear to be since he puts me to sleep every time he speaks. He claims to be an authority on immigration policy because he comes from a border state. He promotes amnesty, but says it's not amnesty if there's a fine. He talks about people paying a fine and going to the back of the line for citizenship, but he also talks about allowing them to stay in the country while they're waiting "in the back of the line." From what I could tell (while I was able to keep from snoozing), it's a lot of talk about nothing. McCain also claims to be an authority on foreign policy -- this due both to his tenure in the Senate and to the fact that he is a war vet. McCain stands behind the Bush doctrine of preemptive action 100% and did not waffle from this under direct questioning. He appears to be pretty unapologetic about it.
Giuliani criticized Paul's lack of understanding about the nature of the threat of radical Islam. He was careful to articulate that Islam is a wonderful religion (as they all are careful to do), but he was very vocal (as was Romney, actually) about the fact that the terrorists' attack on us had nothing to do with us being in the Middle East and has everything to do with them hating us because of what we are (or are not, as the case may be). Paul argued that they are attacking us and not Canada and gave that as evidence for his view that it's all because we're over there. Giuliani did a good job in citing the fact that there were attacks in Bali, London, and Spain as well as attacks on Muslims in ME countries. On the threat of terrorism, Giuliani seems to have a fairly good grasp. Unfortunately, he's not running on much more than that.
Thompson got some decent air time in the debate. He talked about letting the market do its work with health care. He said, "We've got the best health care in the world. It costs more than it should. We can go either one of two ways. We can let the government take it over and it will lower costs... we will also sacrifice care, which nobody wants to do and we're not going to do in this country. Or we can make the markets work more efficiently." He then went on to describe, loosely, how to accomplish this. Thompson also was very clear on the issue of mandated health insurance. "Let's be honest with the people. If you lower costs, more people who want insurance will be able to afford it. But we're probably never going to achieve total coverage. A good number of the people who are uninsured can afford it and choose not to do so." At this point, the moderator interrupted and talked to Romney again and said something about mandates -- then saying that he knew Romney backed away from mandates on the national level. Romney said, "Oh, no. I like mandates." Thompson interrupted with, "I beg your pardon? I didn't think you were going to admit that! You like mandates!" Romney said, "Let me tell you what kind of mandates I like, Fred." Thompson rejoined with, "The ones you come up with."
Thompson also was gutsy enough to take on the issue of Social Security. He stated that some changes need to be made in what we are promising to people because the government cannot sustain the promises currently made. He was clear that he would not lower the benefits of those currently receiving and relying on their Social Security, but he would change what the government is promising to the people in my generation.
The only people I can see who are not trying (yet) to get away with a lot of political doublespeak are Ron Paul and Fred Thompson. Ron Paul is fighting on principle and I don't expect to see him try to talk his way out of his own views. If all I were looking for was someone who would stand on principle, he would be my guy. Unfortunately, the principles he's standing on (at least some of them) are insane and so I cannot support him. Thompson, too, appears to be standing on principle. So far, I think that he needs to keep standing and talk louder. Then we'll see where we're at.