IS IT MORNING ALREADY???!!!! Oh, sorry for shouting. You ever had that panicked feeling waking up from a nap and think you’re late for work? Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, and I somehow came up with 3 1/2 pages of notes on the second GOP debate. It is amazing how good the moderators can be when they are actual journalists, as opposed to a former Democratic political hack and an average sportscaster who thought he was going to be the next Jay Leno who now thinks he is going to be the next Dan Rather (sorry Dan, not even you deserve to be compared with Keith Oblerman). The questions were very tough and actually had nothing to do with the Democrats and everything to do with actual issues interesting to conservatives.

I’m still underwhelmed by the whole crop of “country club candidates” as was aptly described by Chris Wallace. Okay, I know you want to know how I scored it, so I will actually rank them by how I saw their performance, going best to worst. I actually scored them on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest). My scoring system was based on my being an evangelical looking at all the candidates from a biblical perspective (Hey, the name of the blog is Salt and Light!). I looked at the substance of their answers, their delivery, their confidence, and coherence.

I added up each score I gave to each response from the candidate and then divided it by the number of their responses (number in parenthesis behind name). Yeah, it may not be scientific, so go get your own blog. Sorry, I’m tired. Anyway, there will be some surprises (I was after I did the tallying) and a few big jumps and some major slippage by some of the candidates.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (7): He came in third in my last debate ranking and I found this overall performance very strong. His first answer on defense was his standard answer but he is correct about the deployment of the Iraqi Army. This works and is working right now as is attested to by my son Sergeant Eddie Jeffers. Very strong on his answer about China and our trade imbalance with them. Also strong on why immigration is straining social programs and how to fix them. Address security problems with border first and then deal with internal problems. Outstanding response to the scenario given by Britt Hume (best journalist in the business). Won’t become President but gets my vote for SecDef in the Thomspon/Huckabee administration. (What? NOOO, Fred not Tommy!)

Rep. Tom Tancredo (6.8): A huge jump, up from ninth last debate to second! Wow, both California Congressman; it’s heart-warming to know that there are still strong conservatives in my native state (I’m still not moving back!). Response on defense is what is already happening in Iraq, so nothing earth shattering there. Good substance on deficit question but delivery was choppy; this cost a full point and the #1 ranking. Obviously very strong on immigration and I loved his comments on the other GOP candidates conversions needing to be on the road to Damascus instead of the road to Des Moines. Great response on global warming and strong but kind rebuttal of Rep. Ron Paul’s assertion about 9/11 attacks. What leaped him up almost to the top is the grand slam he hit in his response to the scenario attack.

Gov. Mitt Romney (6.57): Probably overall the best performance as far as being above average across the board with very few surprises. He kind of stumbled on his defense answer, and gave an excellent response on the economy. His one faux pas was his weak answer on why he should be considered a conservative and I have a perfectly good explanation: he’s a flip-flopper and Chris Wallace called him on it. (Hey, where’s the other Chris asking me about Hillary?) I think he handled himself very well on the abortion issue and he almost comes off as convincing, but he’s not there yet. His answer on immigration was good and he hit a home run with his answer on the scenario attack. I think his best answer because it was new was his answer for why there is not as many minority candidates running for president and he deftly connected the “civil rights” issue with poor education in the inner cities. Regardless of his performance at the debates, his past record and the Mormon issue may very well be too big a hurdle to leap over.

Sen. Sam Brownback (6.4): Completely blew the question about his support for implementing the Iraq Study Group findings; very weak – this cost him. His answer to the gas prices was very strong; more supply through domestic exploration. I don’t remember which question he was responding to, but he was clearly nervous and uncomfortable and he squinted his eyes and made a silly grin that looked as though he was passing something unpleasant. After that episode he scored a perfect 10 on his answer for abortion. That is why evangelicals will not compromise on abortion…well done Sam! I cheered when he answered the scenario attack question as this being about American lives and not public opinion.

Gov. Mike Huckabee (6): My personal favorite of the declared candidates, but I’m just not convinced that he’s ready for the presidency. Before the debates I was in favor of him running against Mark Pryor for Senate, but I think 8 years as Vice-President under President Fred Thompson (or only 4 if Fred passes the baton) would assure Huckabee as President in 2016; he’ll still be young enough. His weak link is clearly in foreign policy and he doesn’t exude a lot of confidence when he speaks on the issue. Obviously his support of the Fair Tax is very popular with conservatives and his castigation of Congress’ spending habits and equating it with John Edwards’ spending habits on haircuts was hilarious! Nevertheless I’m just not feeling the love for him as much as I was in the recent past.

Rudy Giuliani (5.71): Pretty much steady as he goes; strong answer on defense, good viewpoints on economy but did not directly address criticisms on economic record as mayor. I don’t remember which question Chris Wallace asked Rudy, but he wouldn’t answer the question and Chris called him on it. Rudy looked real bad on this one. Abortion answer; Rudy just doesn’t get it. Immigration idea with tamper-proof ID card okay but the rest of the answer was pretty watered down. His finest moment that got the loudest applause was when Rudy punk-slapped Rep. Ron Paul’s assertion that America somehow instigated the 9/11 attacks. Rudy was clearly upset with the Congressman and asked Paul to retract his statement, which Paul did not do. Rudy was pretty solid on his support of enhanced interrogation techniques.

Gov. Tommy Thompson: Gov. Thompson actually improved this time around although there was a couple of his patented buffoonery answers. I will tell you that his plan for Iraq has quite a bit of merit with many soldiers. My son supports the Iraqis choosing whether the US stays or not. Eddie says that the Iraqis know exactly what it means if the US leaves and if they voted for it, Eddie would leave with a clear conscience and not feel as though it was a wasted effort. Gov. Thompson’s answer on what program he would cut was incoherent saying his own Health and Human Services Department had terrible waste, while he was the Secretary of HHS! When asked which actual program he would cut, he slipped into the imbecile mode and went straight down the drain. Now his answer on stem-cell research was pretty strong and had a lot of merit. I didn’t really get his saying “trust but verify” in the scenario attack answer he gave other than wanting to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan as though conservatives go into some hypnotic trance at the mention of our greatest president of all times.

Sen. John McCain (4.57): McCain should be thankful that Jim Gilmore and Ron Paul were in attendance tonight; they deflected some of what would have been an overall disastrous performance. Nothing new or spectacular on his canned message about the Iraq War. His answer on federal spending was downright embarrassing; he even used the same drunken sailor joke, admitted it in the middle of it, and then blew the punchline! YIKES! His explanation to some questioning his conservative values by saying that real leadership is reaching across the aisle and forming bipartisanship was unsettling. Conservativism wins everytime when pressed steadfastly by ideologues such as Reagan. He’s not going to win any conservative friends on his immigration answer (which Romney attacked very effectively), or his answer on US interrogation techniques, however noble it may seem. Again his overall performance was that of an old man (I know and I’m sorry but it’s true); I cannot imagine him debating Hillary, Obama, or even Edwards. He will look terrible up against any of those three.

Rep. Ron Paul (4.4): Biggest blunder of the night attributing the 9/11 attacks to US invovlement overseas. The old GOP stance of not going to foreign shores, and although a valid constitutional and founding framers argument, all that was pre-9/11. I’m not willing to vote for someone who cannot make that distinction. All of his answers, again while draped in a constitutionalist framework, it will not energize any significant part of the conservative bloc of the GOP. His strongest moment was outlining which programs he would cut; he is obviously well versed in government waste and overspending.

Gov. Jim Gilmore (4.2): A big time slip for Gilmore, the consistent conservative. Yes he is and he basically used the same talking points and just to make sure he didn’t miss any, he actually read from his notes! Man that was ugly! He was actually strong on his defense answer but he completely blundered the third question he fielded (I don’t remember who asked him what). By the end of the night I thought about having a doll made in his likeness and we could call it the Chatty Cathy Politician Talking Points Doll. He’s done in my book.

Clearly after tonight the field needs to voluntarily whittle itself down to no more than seven. And Senator Fred Thompson, if you truly love your country and want to rescue the GOP from itself, please announce before Memorial Day. I can’t take this much more and voters need something to get them excited.