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Three highlights from the Republican presidential debate

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, left, answers a question as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush look on during the debate Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, left, answers a question as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush look on during the debate Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Even without Trump, he's the elephant in the room

For months, the GOP campaign has been defined by Donald Trump dominating the spotlight, and everybody else jockeying with one another to be noticed. Thursday's debate encapsulated that perfectly. His absence was what everybody was buzzing about, while the seven underdogs mostly argued with one another. As thousands of people lined up for Trump's rally a few miles away, rumors swirled about a surprise Trump appearance. Trump offered to appear, but only if the network gave $5 million to his charities. It declined. But for a few rehearsed jokes about his absence, the Fox moderators opted not to focus on the elephant not in the room.

Rubio's contortions on immigration in full view

Fox showed video clips from the 2010 U.S. Senate race in which Marco Rubio was a hardliner against "amnesty." Then moderator Megyn Kelly said how just a couple of years later he helped author the Senate's Gang of Eight immigration bill, which included a path to citizenship. Rubio used wiggle words: "I do not support blanket amnesty." But he came under fire from Jeb Bush, who said Rubio "cut and run" when things got tough politically. That led to an intense back-and-forth between the two Floridians. Rubio then tried to turn it against Ted Cruz, who has in the past had a more moderate view: "Now you want to trump Trump on immigration."

Bush vs. Rubio tension unmistakable on stage

Long-simmering tension between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio burst into view when Bush was pressed on an avalanche of negative TV ads aimed at Rubio. Bush, 62, was asked if he was hurting someone more equipped to take on Hillary Clinton. A strikingly sharper Bush flipped it to his advantage, saying he can beat Clinton, too, and tough ads are part of the vetting process. "I'm running hard," Bush said, unapologetically. Rubio, 44, has complained that more than $20 million in ads have been directed at him from a super PAC supporting Bush. But in Iowa, a super PAC supporting Rubio began an ad that essentially calls Bush old and outdated.

Three highlights from the Republican presidential debate 01/28/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2016 8:07am]
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