Mark Halperin, political correspondent for Time magazine, has another report card on the January 5 GOP candidates debate in Manchester, NH.
Fred Thompson won the Palousitics poll for the December 12 debate with 24% of the vote, followed by Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
Relaxed and at home in friendly New Hampshire. To his advantage, he stayed above the fray — although to his disadvantage he disappeared for long stretches. Strong and firm on Iraq. Seemed to relish his engagement with Romney over immigration, slipping in a sharp jab over his rival’s fortune, and got in another zinger by twisting Romney’s message of change into a glib attack on the governor’s flipflopping history. Bottom line: Amazingly, the New Hampshire frontrunner was barely targeted – if he wins the primary, and then the nomination, it will be an historic missed opportunity for his Republican rivals.
His usual unflappable self. Solid and articulate, but still no agenda that differentiates him from his stronger rivals, and still overly dependent on his New York mayoralty. Displayed no awareness that his frontrunner status has taken a major hit since last fall, to his benefit.
Had a handful of strong interludes, but once again failed to project a “why Fred?” rationale for picking him. Talked firm and theatrical in a good way. Went after his rivals on occasion, challenging Huckabee on foreign policy, but never created a decisive YouTube moment. Showed his relaxed sense of humor throughout, which was both refreshingly charming and worryingly languid.
Tentative at the start, but stood toe to toe with Romney on a foreign policy fight. Double-teamed with McCain on Romney attacks. Shamelessly (but ringingly) quoted the Declaration of Independence—at very great length. Remains adept at steering the conversation to his comfort zones. Seemed to recognize that a low-key posture was, at this juncture, his best bet. Doesn’t need to do super well in New Hampshire, and his debate performance reflected — and probably insured — that.
Stayed on his popular, grassroots-inspiring message, but seemed shriller than usual, in part because his opponents were ganging up on him–perhaps in an effort to thrust him into the fringe and turn off otherwise intrigued New Hampshirites.
Didn’t help himself despite a decent performance, since he was relentlessly under siege. Has realized that the other candidates don’t much like him, and he spent the debate fending off both substantive and superficial attacks rather than presenting his agenda. Nevertheless, far more focused and determined than he has been since his devastating Iowa loss. Defended the pharmaceutical industry – the bravest or rashest act of the night!