Ron Paul on economics: Cut military spending, bring the troops home and have more bases here in the United States. He evidently hoped to recast himself as less dove than America-firster. But lost in his plan: Host countries like Germany and Japan actually pay much of the costs and pick up the bill for troop support infrastructure, costs which would be borne entirely by American taxpayers if those troops were based here. Bring those troops home and our costs go up. Plus, those troops are based overseas for strategic reasons, in Europe to keep the peace there, and in Japan to keep the peace in the Pacific. The troops based overseas would be less strategically useful in, say, South Dakota. This answer betrayed a disturbing lack of depth and basic knowledge of the world in Paul’s thinking.

Forty minutes in, Kelly Evans of the Wall Street Journal asked Romney directly if he will release his tax returns. He said that he anticipates, most likely, he will release his tax returns in April. He came off as unsteady, a bit waffly, as if he is unsure if he has anything to hide. Expect this delay/whiff to dog him for the next few days or even weeks.

Just before the hour mark, Gingrich won a standing ovation after an exchange of several minutes with Fox’s Juan Williams over the subject of minorities, work among the young and poor, and food stamps. Gingrich finished off the exchange stirring up the strongest applause of the night, pledging that while “wealthy elites despise earning a living,” he will do everything he can to make it easier for the poor to get jobs and earn their own living rather than becoming dependent on food stamps under President Obama, whom Gingrich has dubbed the “food stamp president.” Williams framed the initial question and follow-ups as though Gingrich has belittled people who are dependent on food stamps. Creating economic dependency, which Gingrich forcefully opposed, does more to belittle people across whole generations than rhetoric probably ever can. Williams’ cheap shots on race earned him boos from the audience. He deserved them, but the Democrats are almost certain to play this as “Republicans boo black man on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

The second hour opened with Ron Paul justifying his opposition to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Seriously, this is a leading Republican contender? Paul consistently positions himself in ways that blame America and suggest that we are wrong no matter what we do in regards to terrorism. He analogized Osama bin Laden to a Chinese dissident. He accused faceless operators of itching for war with Iran, despite the fact that practically no one wants that, and despite that fact that Iran has considered itself at war with the US since 1979. This exchange was Paul’s second run at full spectrum incoherence in tonight’s debate. The consistent thread running through all of his foreign policy answers to date is that Ron Paul simply would not forcefully represent the United States on the world stage. He lacks the moral clarity needed to defend the nation as her commander in chief.

Perry, while answering when asked about the rise of Islamists in Turkey: “This president has a foreign policy that makes our allies very nervous and emboldens our enemies.” Whether Perry wins or not, this thought should carry forward through November. Perry moved from there to perhaps his strongest statement, in reaction to video of Marines urinating on killed Taliban, by reminding the audience that the Taliban’s and al-Qaeda’s brutal beheadings and murders deserve far more condemnation. Paul finished up, noting that the people who later formed al-Qaeda were our allies against the USSR in Afghanistan. This is common knowledge, and also irrelevant to their brutality now and what we as a nation should do about it, especially when perpetrated against American citizens. Once again, the message from Ron Paul: America, it’s all your fault. You killed Daniel Pearl.

Following Paul’s indictment of American past foreign policy, Romney finished up an exchange on the president’s proposed defense cuts when he agreed with Perry for a third time of the night in noting that it’s despicable to keep cutting defense when the world needs American military superiority.