Romney’s interest tonight is in pushing back the Huckabee surge; Huck wants to knock off Romney now, take over as many of his supporters as he can and move on to the bigger states that Giuliani is counting on. So it’s natural that Romney and Huckabee would duke it out tonight, and they have.

So far they’ve gone two rounds against each other directly. Round one was over whether Huckabee raised Arkansas taxes by half a billion dollars during his ten years in office. Huckabee has to be asked the question four times before he finally answers. The smarter move would have been to give his final answer first and defuse the attack. As it played out, Huckabee made himself look shifty and unwilling to answer a straightforward question. And Mark Levin says that Huck didn’t answer honestly once he finally answered.

Round two was over class warfare, and I’m including it because Romney ends it making a point that’s getting lost in all the current populism, namely, that class warfare is counterproductive to creating and maintaining a healthy economy. You can’t have wage earners without wage payers. That used to be basic Republican doctrine, but once again it’s Huckabee whose rhetoric cuts against it in a way that would be more at home on the other side of the political aisle.

I’d score both rounds for Romney, with a solid knock down in the second one. Conservatives just shouldn’t engage in class warfare.

Update: Fred knocks this speech in illegal immigration out of the park. He treats his colleagues well but gets to the heart of one of the reasons open borders policies are bad for everyone, on both sides of the border. He works in support of free trade and turns Mexico’s criticism of the US back on Mexico for its own failed policies. Well done.

Update: My final take is that this was Romney’s best night as a debater. He won the same way the Patriots win, by taking the fight to his opponents and staying on offense from start to stop. But unlike McCain, Romney can go on offense without coming across like a snarling jerk. Fred and Rudy also had good nights, though Rudy left an opening when he said he learns from his mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. Fred was particularly solid on immigration as in the clip above. As for Rudy’s line about not repeating his mistakes, wives one and two might argue with that. The boss sums it up best:

Wallace to Rudy: “Do you have too much baggage to lead the Republican party?” Rudy laughs nervously.

The answer is: Yes, he has too much baggage.

Huck was weak and evasive but he edges McCain by being less irritating.

What say you?