Karl Rove writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today that “The Republican race is a serious debate about serious ideas.” That obviously went to press before last night’s Republican debate. And while the event happened in the Reagan Library, in the shadow of the actual Air Force One plane that Reagan once flew on, the shared claims to the Gipper’s legacy that have marked the primary campaign thus far gave way to some bruising back-and-forth, particularly, of course, between front-runners John McCain and Mitt Romney. (Mike Huckabee took his place as the new Ron Paul; Ron Paul, well, he was the same old overexcited, barely coherent Ron Paul.) McCain continued to contend that Romney had supported timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. Romney accused McCain of “dirty tricks” and “Washington-style old politics.” McCain hammered Romney for his attack ads and offered him some friendly financial advice: “A lot of it’s your own money, you’re free to do with what you want to. You can spend it all.” It was great theater (far, far more entertaining than the last debate), but the question remains: Who won?
• Andrew Sullivan thinks it was McCain’s worst, grumpiest performance. [Atlantic]
• Kathryn Lopez finds it strange that McCain didn’t act like a front-runner. [The Corner/National Review]
• Noam Schieber compares Romney to Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos but claims he won anyway, saying McCain was hitting him below the belt, and that McCain lost the “who was the closet liberal” battle. [The Stump/New Republic]
• Stephen Hayes thinks Romney won with a few key moments, but that it doesn’t matter. [Weekly Standard]
• Mark Styen has had it up to here with McCain’s “anti-business shtick.” [The Corner/National Review]
• Mike Madden writes that McCain cared more about scoring points on Romney than winning the debate. [Salon]
• Frank Luntz’s focus group gave the victory to Romney. [Real Clear Politics]
• Chuck Todd, on the other hand, thinks McCain won with his improved handling of domestic issues and crafty spin on the Bush tax cuts. [First Read/MSNBC]
• Craig Crawford, meanwhile, believes McCain devastated Romney, the neighborhood bully — even if he had to distort the truth to do so. [Trail Mix/CQ Politics]
For a complete guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.