What would happen at the Republican debates without Donald Trump?
America is now learning the answer to that question – and whether Trump’s Republican rivals will wisely use their final opportunity to grab the spotlight before Iowans head out to caucus. The debate began with most of the candidates talking about Trump’s absence.
The first question from Fox News’ Megyn Kelly: “Donald Trump has chosen not to attend: What message does that send to the voters of Iowa?”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz replied, “Let me say, I’m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you’re a bad surgeon.”
Cruz said, “now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way,” I want to thank everyone for allowing the candidates to appear in Iowa.
“If Donald engages in insults or anybody else, I don’t intend to reciprocate,” Cruz added.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the 2016 presidential campaign is “not about Donald Trump.”
“He’s an entertaining guy, he’s the greatest show on earth,” Rubio said, arguing that Republicans should be more focused on stopping Hillary Clinton from winning the White House.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, “I kinda miss Donald Trump. He was always a little teddy bear to me. Everybody else was in the witness protection program when I went after him.”
Further into the debate, Cruz accused the moderators of trying to pit the candidates against one another – asking questions that provoke each contender into attacking rivals.
“If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave this stage,” he said.
Cruz argued that the most important determination Americans will make is who is best qualified to be commander in chief. He said Fox should focus on those issues rather than attempting to get everyone to attack one another.
With the nation only four days from the first votes of the 2016 election season, Republican candidates are appearing in Iowa at a high-stakes debate that doesn’t include the front-runner for GOP nomination. The following seven candidates appeared at the debate: Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Cruz, Trump’s main rival in Iowa, is widely expected to be the main target on stage. But Trump, as the absent GOP front-runner, may also become the prey in the GOP contest.
The Republican debate began Thursday evening at 9 p.m. EST at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Fox’s Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace – all of whom hosted the fireworks-filled Aug. 6 event watched by 24 million viewers – are moderating. More recent debates, like the one hosted by NBC, have generally received closer to 10 million viewers. Tonight’s event is being broadcast live on Fox News and livestreamed online (without cable authentication).
The situation presents a unique opportunity for GOP candidates who haven’t captured much of the spotlight due to the long shadow cast by Trump. The question remains: Can they break out of the pack by generating a memorable moment that will leave a lasting and positive impression with undecided voters?
Trump is appearing instead at a veterans event alongside GOP rivals Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. It is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. EST at the Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University and will be aired on CNN and livestreamed on CBS and on YouTube (here and here).
The latest Monmouth University Poll of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers has Trump ahead of the pack by seven points, with 30 percent support. Sen. Ted Cruz has 23 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio, 16 percent; Dr. Ben Carson, 10 percent. The remaining candidates received less than 5 percent.
Fox is teaming up with Google and YouTube to ask the candidates questions.
As WND reported, among the YouTube “stars” selected to ask questions is illegal alien “Dulce Candy,” who came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1994, and Muslim activist Nabela Noor, who supports Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders.
In national polling, Trump was surging ahead of the rest of the GOP pack at 36.2 percent in the RealClearPolitics average Thursday. Cruz came in at 19.4 percent. Rubio garnered 10.8 percent. Carson had 8.2 percent. Bush remained at 4.8 percent. Christie came in at 3.8 percent. Kasich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Paul and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum all received less than 2.6 percent.
‘Happy hour’ debate: Hillary for ‘the big house’
Fox also hosted an undercard or “happy hour” debate at 7 p.m. EST featuring the following GOP candidates who failed to qualify for the main event due to low performance in the polls: former Fiorina, Huckabee, Santorum and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
The Trump-Fox drama even trickled into the undercard debate.
At that event, Santorum was asked: Is Monday night your last stand?
Santorum reacted to the question by complaining that there was no media coverage of the undercard debate.
“This is what the media has been doing over the last year to segregate and take Iowans out of the process,” he said.
Santorum said Iowans have an opportunity not to vote for “an entertainer” like Trump. He said news pundits were so concerned about whether Trump would show for the prime-time debate, they failed to address real issues that matter.
Pressed for his opinion of Trump, Santorum blasted, “I’m not going to throw mud at anybody on this stage tonight. I’m not going to throw mud at anybody later. I’m not going to attack Trump.”
Fiorina echoed some of Santorum’s concerns, saying she believes there’s a “yawning chasm” in the election is between what the media discuss and what Americans think is important.
“This is why we have to take our government back. The pundits think they own this country. The media think they own this country,” Fiorina said. “Citizens, the game is rigged. Take our country back.”
Fiorina also took on Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi lies, accusing her of sending a message to jihadists that “it’s open season” on Americans.
Fiorina also ripped into Clinton, saying the former secretary of state will do anything to gain power and hold onto it.
“If my husband did what Bill Clinton did, I would have left him long ago,” Fiorina said. “So here’s the deal: Hillary Clinton has been climbing the ladder to try and get in power. And here now she is trying for the White House. She’s probably more qualified for the big house, honestly. She’s escaped prosecution more times than El Chapo. Perhaps Sean Penn should interview her. The woman should be prosecuted.”
She concluded by saying the fact that Clinton hasn’t been indicted “tells us a lot about our justice system.”