Megyn Kelly’s first question in tonight’s GOP Presidential Debate in Iowa—the last one heading into Monday’s caucuses—said it all: The “elephant not in the room,” which was an obvious reference to Donald Trump, who chose to opt out of the debate and instead host his own fundraising event for veterans, was felt by all 7 candidates on stage. While many have analyzed the impact of Mr. Trump’s move, it is clear at this point that it certainly won’t hurt him.
As the candidate with the largest polling numbers in attendance, Ted Cruz proved to have a difficult time withstanding the heat from both the moderators and the other contenders. At one point, he said, “If you ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.” Perhaps he said this only in jest, but he continued to struggle with avoiding the punches, especially when it came to his stance on immigration and ethanol.
Rand Paul and Marco Rubio received a lot of attention as well, but it was Mr. Rubio who stood out the most. He handled the early national security questions with confidence, but like Cruz, lost his footing in terms of his immigration polices. Mr. Rubio had interesting moments in regards to his Jesus comment and was the only candidate who brought up the topic of Guantanamo Bay in reference to defeating ISIS, which earned loud applause from the crowd.
Halfway through the debate, it became clear that the true showdown of the evening was between Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio. After both candidates struggled with their own histories on immigration, Mr. Rubio put the topic to bed with his swift criticisms of Mr. Cruz.
Chris Christie had some decent moments, but spent too much time bashing Hillary and describing how he would prosecute her if he is elected. John Kasich once again lacked charisma, Ben Carson was so disengaged that he appeared surprised when a Youtube personality’s question was directed to him, and Jeb Bush would not stop talking about how much he missed Mr. Trump.
While Mr. Rubio put on an impressive performance that many of his supporters have been begging for, Mr. Trump’s move and the response it received has made Mr. Rubio’s big night taste bittersweet.