I watched most of the first republican debate last night, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I was dubious that MSNBC would run a proper debate, but those fears were totally unsubstantiated. As much as I criticize Chris Matthews, I thought he did an outstanding job. He was respectful, fair and kept things moving. At times he did a masterful job of cross examining candidates who were trying to deflect questions. As for the candidates, I thought they all did a very credible job. Romney was solid and did nothing to disappoint his supporters. Guiliani was far more impressive thanI have ever seen him be. I left the debate thinking I could vote for him after all. McCain did the worst of the front runners in my view. He seemed to be less focused and engaged in way too much of the dreaded Senate-speak, bragging absurdly about working with democrats on legislation. Still, he made some very good points about overspending and pork. Of the second tier candidates, the three that impressed me were James Gilmore, former governor of Virginia, Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and Congressman Tom Tancredo. Gilmore and Thompson stressed their impressive accomplishments running their respective states and solid conservative credentials. Tancredo made a strong case for true immigration reform and made it tough for the top tier candidates to weasel around the issue. The democrat party bosses must have found the night to be depressing. None of their candidates would have fared well against the likes of Romney, Guiliani, Gilmore or Thompson. And we still have the imposing figure of Fred Dalton Thompson waiting just off stage.