Rudy Giuliani won CNBC’s Republican debate. Giuliani beat Mitt Romney in the few scraps that they got into, with Rudy generally coming off as more knowledgeable. Rudy stressed lowering taxes and reducing the size of government as the ways to spur economic growth. Giuliani’s criticisms were targeted at both leading Democrat and Republican rivals. He blasted Romney’s record of tax increases while governor of Massachusetts, and attacked Hillary’s Clinton’s multi-billion dollar socialist ideas ($5000 bond per child and $1000 401k gift to everyone). Rudy also cited Democratic intent to raise corporate taxes when, he said, even France knows not to do that, and added, to much applause, that the major problem with our relationship with Canada is that with HillaryCare, Canadians will have no place to go for health care.

Fred Thompson‘s debate debut did not go as well as his supporters were hoping. Thompson was slow in his responses, vague even when asked for specifics, and, occasionally, absurdly brief. He rambled on about bridges and national parks when asked about social security, and then, when asked aboot our relationship with Canada, he explained that it was “fine”. When given thirty seconds to answer whether the government should step in during a strike, Fred’s response was, “No.” The moderator quickly asked “Why?” without adding, “You have 29 1/2 seconds remaining, Senator.” Thompson cited a 11% Congressional approval rating, though most polls agree on a number closer to twice that. [Corrected.] Essentially, Thompson evoked images of a kid who hadn’t done his homework and was trying to BS his way through an oral report. In short, Thompson didn’t do much to shake the “lazy” label that has attached itself to him.

On the plus side, Thompson benefited from poor moderation that didn’t force the candidates to answer the questions the way Travis “Guy” Smiley had done at the last debate. Thompson also got to show off a bit of the charm he is known for, thanks to a moderator’s softball question and Romney’s comparing of the debates to Law & Order. The Senator was asked the hot button issue of how he was enjoying the debate, and Mitt Romney’s ill-advised attempt at humor was an attempt to kick Fred when he had nowhere to go but up. Thompson responded nicely with “I thought I’d be the best actor on stage.”

Mitt Romney had an off night, aside from coming out poorly during his exchanges with Rudy and Fred. Romney paradoxically emphasized that market dynamics, not the government, should provide changes to health care, while insisting that every state would provide universal care to its population, apparently forgetting that state government is still government, and not the free market. Romney also amusingly misspoke, stating that a “Sense of optimism” is the greatest long term threat to the US economy.

John McCain tried to get the Straight Talk Express back on the road, emphasizing that the Republicans should own up to mistakes made at home (Katrina) and abroad (Iraq), and focus on reigning in the out of control Congressional spending. McCain said a few suspect things, such as to say he would establish something like the OSS, the organization which was reformed into the CIA, which is something we already have. He also said he wished the interest rate was zero, which is not something for which anyone with a savings account would wish.

Ron Paul got about the same number of questions as Alan Keyes (who was not present). In his very limited air time, Paul stressed the need for lower taxes. He argued that it was ridiculous that Americans have to pay taxes for government subsidies, only to then be further subject to higher prices for the products, and that such an oxymoronic system is unsustainable.

When asked if they would pledge to support any Republican nominee, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo both said no, citing outrageous spending and the party’s failure to remain fiscally conservative.

Tancredo added that the trade imbalance was due to oil, not toys from China, and that the US should drill or do whatever else is necessary to end its dependence on hostile nations. Never one to pass up discussing illegal immigration, even Tancredo ended up laughing at himself when he predictably related every question from taxes to unions to trade deficit back to his pet issue.

Mike Huckabee didn’t have his greatest performance, and at one point wasted a significant portion of his response time complaining that he wished he had more time to answer. Huck somehow likened the US economy to a car at a Nascar pit stop, and said he didn’t care whether or not subsidizing ethanol made economic sense.

“Don’t pick on my mother!” Sam Brownback warned Tancredo, after a response to Brownback’s mother’s history of civil service/union involvement. That was the highlight for Brownback, who was determined to make the US energy “secure”, rather than independent, which, of course, means not independent. He pledged to support whichever Republican got the nomination, with the understanding the nominee would be pro-life, though he said he would support the nominee anyway. He also suggested that the greatest threat to the economy was the “breakdown of family”, which was a really hard sell, even to a conservative audience.

Finally, Duncan Hunter appeared on camera just long enough to imply that Abraham Lincoln was pro-life. No one dared, i.e. bothered, to argue that point.