A few scattered thoughts on tonight's Republican debate:

--John McCain seems to be finding his stride. Back when he was the establishment frontrunner he looked tired and cranky, as though campaigning was a grim chore. But I've been seeing a new spark in him. His dressdown of Mitt Romney on the question of whether waterboarding constitutes torture was kind of stirring, really. It also helps his cause immensely that conditions in Iraq have improved (at least superficially). I bet he finishes very strong in New Hampshire.

--Say what you will about Rudy Giuliani, he comes off as a smart guy and is extremely fluent in complex issues. His defense of New York City's policies towards illegal immigrants is a good example, even if it's not what the party base wants to hear. Likewise his answer about how literally he believes the Bible. He passed up an opportunity to pander to religious conservatives, and even used the word "allegorical," which by the standards of a political debate actually passes as kind of intellectual.

--Rudy's swipe at Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal immigrants at his home was pushing the line of fair play, but it did get him off the defensive on the "sanctuary city" question and, I thought, rattled Romney in an unbecoming way I hadn't seen to date.

--Fred Thompson didn't do much to counter the notion that he's not enjoying himself. He barely left a footprint.    

--Ron Paul didn't exactly reject the notion that the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission are sinister forces, did he? He also seems to believe in that strange Mexico-Canada superhighway.

--Nice answer from Huckabee just as he was getting cornered on his support in Arkansas for public scholarships for the children of immigrants: "We’re  a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."

--Mitt Romney had a few deer-in-the-headlights moments--on gays in the military, torture, and the confederate flag. A bad night that made him look like a plastic pol.

--Conservative blogs and talk radio are going to be all over this.   

--Michael Crowley