Republicans take their last shots

A rigid debate format kept the Republican presidential candidates from truly debating in their last forum before the Iowa caucuses, said Byron York in National Review Online, but that didn't stop Fred Thompson from reviving his campaign. Yes, said David Y

What happened

The Republican presidential candidates stuck to their talking points Wednesday in the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. A rigid debate format kept the candidates from squaring off over key issues, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney refrained from attacking fellow front-runner Mike Huckabee over the hot-button issue of immigration. Former senator Fred Thompson attracted some much-needed attention, especially by leading a revolt against the debate’s moderator, Des Moines Register editor Carolyn Washburn, by refusing to participate in a show of hands on whether humans are causing climate change. (The New York Times, free registration)

What the commentators said

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Fred Thompson was the clear winner, said Byron York in National Review Online. His debate performance—coming after weeks of “underwhelming” campaign appearances—left his supporters wondering whether he might be the right guy, after all. “The audience loved it” when he revolted against the “silliness” of the debate by refusing to raise his hand on the global warming question.

Thompson “did himself the most good,” said David Yepsen in the Des Moines Register. He “exuded executive persona,” and proved himself to be a “stand-up guy” by exhibiting a willingness to take on entitlement programs threatening to “bankrupt” the U.S. But front-runners Romney and Huckabee “avoided any last-minute derailments of their front-running candidacies in Iowa and shored up the support they’ve built.”

Romney did more than tread water, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online’s The Corner blog. He avoided “seeming small in fights with Huckabee”—thanks largely to a format that prohibited actual debate—and “seemed in control, substantive and positive.”

The debate’s moderator, Washburn, should keep her day job, said Dean Barnett in The Daily Standard.

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