The subject turns to Iran, and all the candidates but Paul express support for the restraint that the US commanders showed in dealing with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats. But Ron Paul listens to the voices in his head rather than the candidates on the stage. Brit Hume gets a laugh out of it and Mitt Romney provides the coup de grace.

Update: Final score (according to me).

Winner — Fred Thompson. This was Fred’s best night by far. He concentrated his fire on Huckabee and found his target. He was animated, quick, witty and substantive. A more solid strike on McCain’s amnesty record would have made the night perfect.

Loser — Rudy. He can be good when he’s on camera, but he just doesn’t get beyond his talking points. He’s constantly chortling off-camera. He needs serious improvement as a debater. His “change” answer was great, though.

The others.

Mitt Romney had the second-best night of any of the candidates, but didn’t do what he needed to do tonight. Maybe it was the fact that the other candidates weren’t tearing into him, but he seemed more marginal than he has been in the recent debates. He seemed to be delivering his stump speeches most of the night and therefore didn’t make a solid impression. But he’s checking out of South Carolina after tonight to focus on Michigan anyway, and may benefit if Fred can knock out Huckabee, so not scoring big tonight may not hurt him.

Mike Huckabee. Got taken to task by Thompson, which may leave a mark. Did he really rip off a line about bridges not falling down in Arkansas? Overall, he went up against a bear and got mauled. Not a good night.

John McCain. I’m trying to remember anything he said and I’m coming up empty. He got the kid glove from Fred on amnesty, which makes me wonder if Fred just doesn’t want to go too hard on his old friend. He needs to.

Ron Paul. He needs to pay attention to what the other candidates are actually saying once in a while. For once, he agreed with them on Iran but ranted anyway and earned humiliation for it. Other than that, he offered up the usual weird mix of old-school odd with the occasional ray of small government sense. I wish the other candidates would adopt Paul’s small government ideals. I wish Paul would jettison everything but his small government ideals.

Update:

If only Thompson had been as tough on McCain as he was on Huckabee tonight.

Indeed. And if only he had been this energetic and engaged with potential supporters all along like he has started to lately.