On North Korea:
Kerry was entirely unconvincing on his call for bilateral talks. I thought Bush was effective in explaining the need for multilateral talks with his emphasis on China's influence with North Korea. Bush could have hit him harder on Kerry's call for unilateralism when it came to North Korea.
Kerry fumbled this one badly. Bush nailed him on his call for sanctions - we've had them for a while. Then when Kerry tried to rebut with his explanation that he would have gone about it differently, Bush pointed out that it was the Clinton administration who put them in place. Evidently Kerry either screwed up on his Iran preparation or figured that Bush wouldn't call him on it - either way, he lost.
On Homeland Security:
Kerry pulled out a whopper - that the NYC subway was closed during the RNC convention. It wasn't. Unfortunately Bush didn't call him on it, but Drudge and the bloggers are all over it and it will be common knowledge soon. So any temporary advantage he gained on the issue will be nullified.
Kerry had a "Quayle moment" for which, if we had a fair and impartial press, he'd be rightly crucified. Treblinka Square, Senator Kerry? Confusing the Russians with Nazis? Not exactly diplomatic. He also failed the "Breslan test" of recognizing the deep impact that had on parents of schoolage children everywhere.
Now to the elephant in the room - Iraq:
Kerry had absolutely no response to Bush pointing out how ineffective Kerry would be. Bush chastised Kerry for criticizing Allawi, for calling our allies the coalition of the bribed and coerced, and pointed out the unlikelihood of convincing other nations to participate in the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. Bush also added a couple of rejoinders about Kerry's claim to support the troops being undermined by his vote against the $87 billion and his statement that those who think the world isn't a safer place with Saddam in jail don't have the judgment to be president.
On pre-emptive action:
Kerry's "global test" is going to get lots of play - and none of it will be positive for Kerry. Cheney already started last night at his event, and this is probably going to be the memorable line of the debate. Bush's response wasn't as strong as I would have liked, but Karl Rove's ears certainly perked up when Kerry uttered those words and will make Kerry pay dearly for them.
I think that any number of bloggers could have absolutely decimated Kerry last night. Bush failed to bring up many of the points that are bandied about on the internet and let Kerry escape relatively unscathed. Kerry had a strong performance, but didn't say anything new. For that matter, neither did Bush. I don't think there is going to be any real shifting in the polls because there wasn't any new information added.
I was disappointed in the president's performance: not because I thought he did particularly badly, but because I knew how easily Kerry's debate performance could have been skewered had the president been on top of his game.
This isn't 2000 - style over substance isn't going to win this time. Gore destroyed himself in 2000, and Kerry clearly didn't do that. But people are paying attention to foreign policy this year, and Kerry didn't provide them with enough to significantly move the "who do you trust on Iraq/WoT" questions that would have been necessary to make a real change in the dynamics of the race.
Kerry provided the Bush campaign with some choice cuts: "global test," "Treblinka Square," "NYC subway shut down," "I never said Bush lied," etc. that will come back to haunt him. So I think in the longer run the debate performance will end up being a net negative for him.
Bush's people need to let him have a down day before the next debate. Going to visit the hurricane victims was a nice human touch, but it clearly tired him and negatively impacted his performance. They need to clear his schedule for the day of the next two debates. Granted, he only needs to avoid major mistakes in the next two in order to win, but fatigue can lead to gaffes and a few more hours of campaigning aren't worth the risk of making one.
UPDATE: Check out Hugh's memo.
The DNC's response to the debate is a videotape showing Bush reactions. The response from the right is to absolutely destroy Kerry's credibility by comparing/contrasting with previous statements and positions. Which do you think is more likely to change opinions?