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But unlike so many other GOP debates, Thursday night’s event seemed tamer than usual in the absence of frontrunner Donald Trump. The billionaire real estate mogul was across town hosting his own event raising money for veterans instead of being on the stage.
Here are five moments that mattered at the Trump-less final debate before Monday’s caucuses:
1. Cruz Gets His Trump Insults In Early
Donald Trump may have chosen to skip the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses, but he was mentioned at the very top of the debate when moderator Megyn Kelly said it was time to "address the elephant not in the room tonight." She then asked Ted Cruz "what message do you think that sends to the voters of Iowa?"
He thanked Iowa before quipping: "Let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly.
"And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon," Cruz said, turning to Ben Carson. "Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way."
2. Cruz Channels Trump for the Second Time
For the second time during the debate, Cruz tried to channel Trump trying to take on moderator Chris Wallace.
"I would note that the last four questions had been Rand, please attack Ted, Jeb, please attack Ted," Cruz said, complaining about the line of questioning.
Wallace explained, "It is a debate, sir."
"No, no, a debate actually is a policy issue, but I will say this, gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage," Cruz joked, referring to Trump's no show.
3. Everybody vs. Everybody Brawl Over Immigration
Jeb Bush attacked Marco Rubio. Then Rubio attacked Bush. Next, Rand Paul attacked Ted Cruz. And then Cruz attacked Rubio. And Rubio and Cruz were both forced to respond to videos showing quotes from positions they had articulated in the past.
“We're not going to beat Hillary Clinton with someone who's willing to say or do anything to win an election,” said after a long critique of Cruz.
“You know, I like Marco. He's very charming. He's very smooth,” Cruz replied. “But the facts are simple.”
And when Rubio accused Bush of saying he used to support a path to citizenship, Bush jabbed back: “So did you, Marco.”
Christie ended the battle boasting of his governor status.
“It's perfectly legal in this country to change your mind. But when you're a governor, you have to admit it,” he said. “That's the kind of leader we need in the White House.”
4. Chris Christie’s "Washington-To-English" Dictionary
After a spat between Rubio and Cruz about campaigns “building lies” and willingness “to say or do anything in order to get votes” in their states and not delivering as soon as they get to Washington, Christie jumped in and said Americans need a translator to understand the two.
“This is why you need to send someone from outside of Washington to Washington,” Christie said. “I feel like I need a Washington English dictionary converter, right?”
Christie went on to say it’s harder to “change your mind” and “hide behind parliamentary tricks” when you’re governor.
“Stop the Washington bull and let's get things done.“
5. Ben Carson: “Putin is a one-horse country: oil and energy.”
Ben Carson used to be riding high in Iowa - now he’s plummeted in the polls.
But that didn’t stop the doctor, who was largely absent from tonight’s debate, from getting pitched some foreign policy questions.
“Putin is a one-horse country: oil and energy,” Carson said in response to a question on Estonia and NATO. “We would definitely protect all of our allies.”
He ended the debate by quoting a core line of the Constitution verbatim and then adding: “Folks, it’s not too late. Enough said.”
Carson is currently polling fourth in Iowa.