Without attending the Thursday-night Fox News Republican debate amid a high-profile boycott, Donald Trump dominated the early conversation.
Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly posed the debate’s first question to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), asking the senator to address the “elephant not in the room.” She asked what it said to Iowa voters that Trump decided to skip the debate.
After asking Iowans directly for their votes in the upcoming caucuses next Monday, Cruz made light of Trump’s absence from the debate, mocking his scorched-earth criticisms of his opponents.
“Let me say that I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid fat and ugly, and Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon,” Cruz said, referring to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
“Now that we’ve got the Donald Trump portion out of the way, I want to thank everyone here for showing the men and women of Iowa the respect to show up and make the case to the people of this state why each of us would make the best commander in chief,” he continued.
“There’s a difference between personal insults and attacks — between going into the mud with ad-hominems and focusing on issues and substance.”
Protesting Kelly’s supposedly unfair questions during a previous debate, Trump announced this week that he would skip the Republican debate, announcing a rally at the same time only about a mile away.
But the second question of the debate was also about Trump. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) answered the inquiry about Republican intra-party struggling by attempting to cast Trump as simply an “entertainer,” not a serious candidate.
“Let’s begin by being clear about what this campaign about. It’s not about Donald Trump — he’s a very entertaining guy, he’s the the greatest show on earth,” Rubio said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also addressed Trump in the opening question posed to him. He joked that he “kind of miss[ed] him.”
“I kind of miss Donald Trump. He was a little teddy bear to me. We always had a loving relationship during these debates and in between in the tweets,” Bush said. “I kind of miss him. I wish he was here. Everyone else was in the witness protection program when I went after him on behalf on what the Republican cause should be: conservative principles, limited government.”
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