Comments a young friend:
What a difference four years make! Ron Paul was treated much more respectfully. It helped that Gary Johnson was there, whatever his faults, and it helped that so few of the other candidates showed up -- the ratio of statists to libertarians was better this time than it is likely to be in future debates. I don't believe that Johnson's presence detracted from Ron; on the contrary, it reinforced the perception that Ron's ideas are viable and are gaining broader acceptance. But Johnson is not going to steal Ron's thunder -- he is all about "cost-benefit government," while Ron excites the audience with his adherence to principle. His answer to the question about "strength" was breathtaking: we need the strength to do what is right, not a strong-man dictator ruling over a prison state.
My thoughts on the others:
-Cain: A businessman who thinks government is analogous to a business. Has no guiding principles and no ideas, really. People laugh at his jokes, but won't vote for him.
-Pawlenty: Boring and slick. Romney-lite, gives highly rehearsed, marketing-tested answers that scream, "I am a politician!" Like Romney, has to run from his record. Haha.
-Santorum: Or, as Tony Soprano calls him, "Senator Sanitorium." Lookes crazed, like a vein is going to burst out of his temple as he calls for war on Iran and defends his vote for Medicare Part D on grounds that it's a "private" solution and not a huge unfunded entitlement. His theocon Cotton Mather routine doesn't have broad appeal.
-Johnson: Seems like a decent fellow, and is far better than the typical Republican. But his lukewarm, "pragmatic" libertarianism doesn't hold a candle to Ron's real deal. And politically speaking, "cost-benefit analysis" is not a winning slogan.
Nobody made any major flubs. But all in all, I think Ron Paul was brilliant and resonated with the audience like no one else.
I still have no faith in the political process (look at those polls of Republican voters!) but, like you, I can't take my eyes off this race.