Live Blog: The Fox News GOP Debate (No Trump Edition)

By Mark Joyella 

Friends, shall we take a moment and evaluate this moment in history? Here we are, on the verge of a Republican presidential debate that, just as the pundits predicted months ago, does not include a man named Donald Trump.

Of course, they only got that right on a technicality, of course, as Trump is still very much in the race, and still very much the frontrunner. He’s just not intending to be on the debate stage tonight (unless, of course, he shows up).

In this ever so odd campaign, tonight is fittingly fraught with suspense and drama–most of it the product of a frenzied 48 hours of back-and-forth between Trump and Fox News.

So tonight, we have a Republican debate without the Donald. He’s holding his own rival event, and should events warrant, we’ll include updates from that rally/town hall/speech/charity event here.

Our immediate objective is to follow along with the Fox News debate, which features–despite the best efforts of Trump–Megyn Kelly, along with Bret Baier and Chris Wallace as moderators. How will they address the elephant in the room (who is not in the room)? We shall soon find out.

tomsnyder-splshSo, there’s nothing left to do but follow the wise words of TV great Tom Snyder, who would likely have enjoyed all of this: “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.”

9:03 p.m. ET: First question–from Megyn Kelly–is about Trump’s absence and goes to Ted Cruz. “Let’s address the elephant who is not in the room,” she says, and asks Cruz what Trump’s decision says to voters. Cruz then dropped a series of insults on the candidates. “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 of the debate out of the way…”

Clearly, Cruz must have known this was coming:

9:28 p.m. ET: Chris Wallace shuts down Ted Cruz, who insists on responding to a previous comment. “I know you like to argue about the rules, but we’re going to conduct a debate.”

9:30 p.m. ET: Cruz again complains to Wallace, this time about the tone of the questions. “If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.”

Annnnnnnd, that didn’t take long:

9:55 p.m. ET: Headed to a break, Megyn Kelly teases questions on immigration, and “something you’ve never seen before.” WHAT IS IT?

10:00 p.m. ET: Megyn Kelly plays a series of clips of Marco Rubio saying he would never support amnesty, then confronts him on his Senate voting record, asking if he flip-flopped. When he pushes back, she’s having none of it.

The clips–and Kelly’s tough questioning–seem to have put the candidates on the defensive, and have viewers commenting.

10:20 p.m. ET: Google, a partner in tonight’s debate, has crunched the numbers and found interest–we’ll know more about the ratings tomorrow–seems clear: the debate’s driving more searches than Donald Trump’s rally:

On Twitter, people are still talking about Trump:

10:58 p.m. ET: Even before the debate ends, the reviews are being published. Here’s Ron Fournier writing in National Journal:

Will duck­ing the de­bate hurt Trump’s stand­ing with pa­ro­chi­al Iowa voters or em­bolden his icon­o­clast­ic brand? I trust Trump on this one: He said, “Who the hell knows?”

What I do know: Thursday night was a night­mare for the GOP – an­oth­er step to­ward what ap­pears to be a deep and en­dur­ing split between the party’s es­tab­lish­ment and its angry in­sur­gents, a rude and un­ruly polit­ic­al cir­cus that re­af­firms for in­de­pend­ent voters their worst im­pres­sions of the Grand Old Party.

11:00 p.m. ET: Our debate is over. Go in peace.