A quick thought on the GOP debate:

Mitt-bashing has been a preoccupation of this blog*, and it was out in full-force tonight. Huckabee kicked off the proceedings after Romney told him to worry about explaining his own position "and I'll explain mine." (No transcript yet, so I've got to rely on my rough notes.) Huck's quick response: "Which one?" He went on to accuse Romney of calling for a timed withdrawal from Iraq before becoming a devout supporter of the surge and staying the course.

Next Thompson got in on the action after Mitt said, "Let me tell you about the kinds of mandates I like..." To which Thompson shot back: "The ones you write." Rudy also got in some licks, saying that if Ronald Reagan were running in this election, "He'd actually be in one of Mitt's negative commercials."

But the real star of the Mitt-bashing effort was John McCain, who just kept going back to that well over and over. During an immigration back-and-forth, McCain said (something like): "You can spend your entire fortune mischaracterizing my immigration position but that still won't make what you say true." After Romney complained about getting misquoted by the AP, McCain chimed in with: "If you keep changing your positions you're going to get misquoted every now and then." At one point he said, seemingly apropos of nothing: "I just want to say: Governor Romney--we disagree on many things, but you are the candidate of change." He had trouble suppressing his laughter as he said this.

It was all a bit much. With all the "oohs" and "ahs" in the press-filing center, it felt like we were watching a game of the dozens rather than a presidential debate. At certain moments it had the effect of making Romney look more sympathetic, at others it made him look like the only adult on stage, and at others it made him look like he must be the front-runner, since people were so determined to take him down a peg. McCain in particular seemed to go too far, looking and sounding downright snide at times.

I could see the pundits proclaiming Mitt the loser since he took so much incoming fire. But my hunch is that it won't play that way among voters.

*That is, documenting the ways the other GOP candidates bash Mitt...

--Noam Scheiber