back to top

Here's Everything You Need To Know About The Republican Debate Without Trump

The Republican candidates for president faced off Thursday night — notably without frontrunner Donald Trump — in the last debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Here's what you need to know about tonight's Republican debate.

* The Republican candidates for president faced off Thursday night — notably without frontrunner Donald Trump — in the last debate before the Iowa caucuses, the first nominating contest of the season.

* Trump's absence from the debate — he held a rally instead — dominated the early portion of the evening.

* With Trump out of the picture, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put on solid performances. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich didn't break through as much.

* The biggest exchanges — especially Rubio, Bush, and Cruz — came during a discussion on immigration.

* And the Fox News moderators were tough on the candidates throughout the evening — at one point showing montages of Cruz and Rubio's past statements on immigration — and asking them if their positions changed.

* Neurosurgeon Ben Carson also had some interesting answers. More on those below.


The first question — no surprise — was about Trump. Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked Cruz about what it says that the businessman didn't attend the event.

"Everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly... Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way..."

"I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, & ugly... Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way," Cruz said to laughter.

Just before the debate, Trump told CNN that a Fox News spokesperson called to apologize for sending a mocking press release about his call to replace Kelly at the debate.

Bush called Donald Trump “a little teddy bear” who he missed.

“I kind of miss Donald Trump. He was a little teddy bear to me," Bush said. "We always had such a loving relationship during these debates and in-between in the tweets. 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 of what the Republican cause should be: conservative principles.”

Fox said Trump offered to show up at the debate — if the network donated $5 million to his charities. Fox refused.

The sharpest exchanges of the evening came when the candidates were asked about immigration, starting a back-and-forth skirmish on whether they had ever supported a path to citizenship.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Kelly broached the subject by playing a series of old news clips showing Rubio, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, appearing to express his opposition to so-called "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants.

Kelly then pointed out that Rubio was one of the key supporters of the "Gang of 8" bill, a failed bill that would have legalized some undocumented immigrants, asking how the candidate could reconcile the apparent contradiction.

"If you look at the program, it's very specific," Rubio said of his one-time support of immigration reform. "I do not support amnesty. We are not going to round up 12 million people, but we are not going to hand around citizenship."

Bush responded by saying that he believes there should be a path to "legal status" for undocumented immigrants by "working hard and not breaking the law."

Rubio then accused Bush of flip-flopping on immigration.

"You changed your position!" Rubio said. "You used to support a path to citizenship, not a path to legal status!"

Bush then fired back with a wide grin.

"So did you!" Bush said.

Kelly then asked Cruz about an amendment he introduced to the Gang of 8 bill, questioning the candidate on whether the proposal constituted support for "amnesty" as the network aired a video montage of Cruz saying several times he wanted immigration reform to pass.

Cruz responded by saying he had not actually supported immigration reform, unlike Rubio.

"When that battle was fought, Rubio chose to stand next to Obama," Cruz said. "But I chose to stand with Steve King, and fight against amnesty."

Christie concluded the exchange by saying changing one's mind was not actually against the law.

"I feel like I need to get a Washington to English dictionary," Christie said.

BuzzFeed News reporter Adrian Carrasquillo can sum that all up for you right here:

Immigration debate transcript: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (END VIDEO CLIP) RUBIO: You serious? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (END VIDEO CLIP) Cruz: Cold world

Here are the ~best~ applause lines and zingers of the evening:

* "Let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon. Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way..." — Cruz

* "I kind of miss Donald Trump, he was a little teddy bear to me...Everyone else here was in the witness protection program when I went after him." —Bush

* "They're not going to turn into stockbrokers overnight or open up a chain of car washes." —Rubio on ISIS not going away.

* "You don't get 30 seconds to respond to me." — Moderator Chris Wallace to Cruz, one of several scuffles.

* "Now you want to Trump Trump on immigration." —Rubio to Cruz

* "Are we not allowed to choose who comes in, when they come in and how they come in? And that's not what's happening now." —Rubio on immigration

* "If you've got 10 people coming to your house and you know one of them is a terrorist, you're probably going to keep them all out." —Carson


And Christie spent most of the night hammering away at Hillary Clinton, so here's his one-liner:

.@chrischristie: "The days for the Clintons in public housing are over." #GOPDebate

And here's Rubio on where Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders should run for election.

Top Tweeted moment for #GOPDebate: Rubio: "Bernie Sanders would be a good president...of Sweden."

Cruz cried foul at the moderators' questions, accusing them of baiting the candidates on stage to attack him.

Ted Cruz is losing his mind, and his meltdown hissy fit is tremendous #GOPDebate

“Chris, I would note that the last four questions have been, ‘Rand please attack Ted, Marco please attack Ted, Chris please attack Ted, Jeb please attack Ted.’ Let me just say this,” Cruz said.

“It is a debate sir,” Fox News moderator Chris Wallace interjected.

“Well, no, no, a debate actually is a policy issue,” Cruz responded. “But I will say this, gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage. Chris, the most important determination any voter is going to make in this election, is who’s best prepared to be commander-in-chief. Who has the experience, who has the knowledge, who has the judgment, who has the clarity of vision and strength of resolve to keep this country safe. That is what this debate is all about, and I would suggest let’s stay focused on those issues, rather than just attacks directed at each other.”

Bush used a question from YouTube personality Nabela Noor about hate crimes against Muslims to criticize and contrast himself with Trump.

"Mr. Trump believed that in reaction to people's fears that we should ban all Muslims," Bush said. "Well, that creates an environment that's toxic in our own country. Nabela is a rising entrepreneur. She wants to pursue the American dream. She's an American citizen. She should not feel uncomfortable about her citizenship. She's not the threat. The threat is Islamic terrorism."

Bush added, "I think it's important for us to be careful about the language we use, which is why I've been critical of Donald Trump. Disparaging women, disparaging hispanics, that's not a sign of strength. Making fun of disabled people. We're never going to win elections if we don't have a more broader unifying message."


Some people pointed out this tweet from Noor, indicating she was supporting Democratic canddiate Bernie Sanders for president. Noor did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.

I took this pic at the grocery store last night to send to @AndreasChoice ❤️ Who else feels the BERN? #Bernie2016

Rand Paul was asked early on if he made a mistake by not embracing his father, libertarian icon Ron Paul.

Paul responded, saying, "You know, I've always had a great deal of respect. There's probably no person I respect more in the country or in recent history than my father. I think he was probably the most honest man in politics that we've ever seen in a generation. And so in no way have I ever said that I don't embrace my father or love my father or appreciate everything that he has done for the country. I think what's interesting about where that liberty vote goes that my father brought to the Republican Party is, I don't think they're necessarily going to go for Ted."

And we'll just ride the rest of this post out with two Ben Carson answers.


Question: I'd like to ask you a few questions about foreign policy broadly.

Dr. Carson, many experts believe Russian leader Vladimir Putin has greater ideas, bigger designs for the region beyond Russia's actions inside Ukraine. Fast forward to February 2017 and it is President Carson, and Russian uniformed commandos cross the Estonian border and they occupy a city in Estonia. Estonia, a member of NATO, essentially invokes Article IV, an attack on one is an attack on all. What do you do?

CARSON: Look, first of all, I recognize that Vladimir Putin is an opportunist and he's a bully, and we have to face him down. And I would -- first of all, face him down in that whole region, the whole Baltic region. I think we need to put in some armored brigades there. We only have one or two. We need much more than that. We need to be doing military exercises if not only Estonia but Latvia and Lithuania. They're terrified by the saber rattling. I think we ought to put in our missile defense system.

I think we ought to give Ukraine offensive weapons and I think we ought to fight them on the economic basis because Putin is a one- horse country: oil and energy. And we ought to fight them on that level.

We ought to be helping in terms of the technology for fracking, keeping the price low, quite frankly, because that's what's keeping him contained. So, yes, I'd absolutely would go in if he attacked. I think on Article IV of NATO, we would definitely protect all of our allies.

Here's that line again:

And then — and then! — Carson's final answer was a recital of the Preamble of the Constitution.

WATCH: @RealBenCarson closes the #GOPDebate with the Preamble to the United States Constitution.


Here's some recent coverage of the GOP race from BuzzFeed News:


Reporting by Nicolas Medina Mora, Kyle Blaine, and Tom Namako

Contact BuzzFeed News at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.