Tonight’s dreary but polite debate made it impossible to declare a winner. No mistakes, no huge moments, no great, punchy lines. Softballs were served up to nearly all the candidates, and no one seemed to want to take a big swing.
As a result, I think McCain might have done best precisely because no one really engaged him. The test tonight was “credible leadership.” There are lots of reasons to question McCain’s fitness as a GOP leader (his age, his anti-party reflexes, his wrong-headedness on the Bush tax cuts, etc), but no one challenged him. He arrived tonight as the leader and no one pushed him off the throne. His sudden statement near the end of the debate praising Rudy – apparently an effort to criticize the nasty quote about Giuliani from the New York Times editorial endorsing him that was read by Brian Williams – remind people that, even in the heat of battle, McCain is a mensch. Not a bad thing to be in the Florida primary.