In Trump’s Absence, Republicans Had Something That Resembled a Debate
By Lucy Steigerwald
There is a pre-packaged narrative that says Donald Trump won the final, pre-Iowa Caucus debate by virtue of his not even showing up. Google searches confirm that frontrunner Trump was on the minds of many, even if he was busy staging his own rally down the road. His – to put it politely – pet cause of immigration was one of the prominent topics on stage.
And yes, the opening question Fox News co-moderator Megyn Kelly tossed first at Sen. Ted Cruz was about “the elephant not in the room” and what Trump was saying to Iowa by not attending the debate like the good boys all had.
Everyone said their piece. There was a weasely-sounding quip from Cruz and an awkward one from former Gov. Jeb Bush about leaving the stage like you-know-who. Sen. Marco Rubio called him “the greatest show on earth” but said the proceedings were not about Trump. Later Cruz tried and failed to start a Trump-ish squabble with Fox News but abandoned that tactic when co-moderator Chris Wallace gamely fought back with “it is a debate, sir.”
After a spirited round of pandering to Iowa (“Iowa in 2017 will not be fly-over country. It will be fly-to country,” vowed Cruz, in one of the night’s weird lines that almost worked but totally didn’t) the night moved on to less Trump-as-Voldemort topics. And it worked. Every candidate besides the somnambulant Dr. Ben Carson seemed to be stretching their legs and picking up speed without Trump there to trip them up.