On the playing field, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Sarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ MORE did the best in the Republican debate. He was passionate, articulate, and forceful and the populism that animated his race in 2000, heretofore absent, was shining brightly as he denounced pork and special interests. He did himself the most good.

But the bias of MSNBC and Politico.com, the debate's sponsors, was evident. Democratic organs, both, they did their utmost to be sure the Rudy Giuliani was marginalized during the debate. As the only Republican who can win in November, he has been the object of Democratic attacks for a month or more now and MSNBC kept the mike well away from him as much as possible. Off in a corner of the room, seemingly by himself, at dramatic moments in the debate, the attention went to McCain, Romney, anybody -- even Brownback -- but not to Giuliani.

For his part, Rudy began strong with good answers out of the box but then degenerated into a candidate for re-election as mayor instead of a candidate for president. He was good when the topic was terrorism but weak on everything else. He needs to get his act down better before the next showdown.

Romney showed himself to great advantage as handsome, articulate, and able. His answers hit squarely into the pro-family agenda of his party.

The surprise was Mike Huckabee — disclaimer: he is a former client — who was original and creative in his answers. He distinguished himself with a felicity of phrase and a take on issues that was unique and refreshing. He clearly vaulted to the front rank of the second tier of candidates.