The worst ever? Charles Krauthammer thought so. Maybe.

"Thank you, thank you," the monotone moderator repeated time and time again, lamely signaling that the allotted thirty-second period for candidate responses had concluded.

Two asides:

Nothing irritates me more than a disingenuous "thank you."

Nine people on a stage, only three of whom have a serious chance at being president of the United States, all of them confined to thirty-second sound bites, strikes me as a recipe for a worthless eighty two minutes.

Having said that, the debate offered two big revelations:

1. Alan Keys is running for president again? Seriously?

2. Fred may have finally found his stride. Was this a breakthrough for him? I hope so. While Romney delivered another sharp and optimistic performance, Fred was the story. Like an all-star athlete who skipped spring training, Thompson has looked sluggish and out of sorts for the first few debates. But last night he finally showed up with his game face on.

Too little too late? Maybe. Maybe not. This race still seems very fluid to me. Because the field is so weak, it may not be too late for Fred.

What did Fred do that was so great?

1. He had a mini Ronald ("I paid for this microphone") Reagan moment, when he refused to comply with the "show of hands" on global warming.

--He was right to point out that this issue is more complicated than a "yes or no" answer to a politically driven "trap" question.

--As a Republican, skepticism about global warming hyperbole and hysteria plays well with a whole slew of target voters. McCain and Rudy clamoring to agree with Al Gore did not do them any good with the GOP base.

--And taking on a not very attractive and incredibly annoying media stiff is always a popular thing to do for a Republican candidate.

2. Fred also scored with two humorous retorts: still ostensibly on global warming, Alan Keyes delivered an impassioned speech about everything and about nothing all at the same time, all the while neglecting to address the actual issue explicitly. At which point, Fred interjected: I agree with Alan's position on global warming," which elicited a big laugh from the audience. The other case, which has made all the highlights, Thompson made light of Romney's wealth and his "acting ability." More good laughs.

3. Fred looked presidential and tough. "We can't stand for that," he said once in relation to our friends taking advantage of free trade agreements. I believed him. He clearly wanted to set himself apart from (above) the mad scramble for votes, and he did that (at least for a moment).