The 2016 Republican contenders gathered in Iowa on Thursday night for the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucus. The lone exception was, of course, Donald Trump who decided to skip this debate and hold his own rally just a few miles from the debate broadcast in Des Moines. This debate was hosted by Fox News in partnership with Google and also featured an undercard debate earlier in the evening along with the primetime event.

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Fox News/Google Republican Debate

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Primetime Debate
Moderators: Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace
Candidates: Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Bush, Christie, Kasich, Paul

Full primetime debate video in 7 parts:

Report on the primetime debate from Yahoo News:

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz chided front-runner Donald Trump for skipping their televised debate on Thursday, thanking his rivals for “showing up” in Iowa and making their case to voters four days before the first nominating contest.

Trump boycotted the debate in a snub to host Fox News, holding a competing event across town in Des Moines in a controversy that widened the rupture between his supporters and the Republican Party establishment.

“I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly, and Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon,” Cruz said to rival Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, saying that he had now “gotten the Donald Trump portion of the program out of the way.”

“I want to thank everyone here for showing the men and women of Iowa the respect to show up and make the case to the people of this state and the people of the country why each of us believe we would make the best commander in chief,” said Cruz, the Texas senator who is Trump’s top rival in Iowa.

The billionaire front-runner for the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election withdrew from the encounter in a spat with network anchor Megyn Kelly whom he accuses of treating him unfairly.

As expected, Trump’s absence was the opening segment of the debate. Cruz and others took shots at his decision though Trump didn’t get many mentions beyond the first 10 or 15 minutes. There was a lot of back-and-forth between Cruz, Rubio, and Christie. One segment of note was when moderators made all three of them explain their views on amnesty and immigration by playing videos of their past statements.

Undercard Debate
Moderators: Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer
Candidates: Fiorina, Huckabee, Santorum, Gilmore

Full undercard debate video:

Report on the undercard debate from Fox News:

The lower-polling Republican candidates took aim at Hillary Clinton, the media and the GOP establishment at the first of two primary debates Thursday night – with Carly Fiorina launching a fiery attack against the Democratic front-runner.

Fiorina went after Clinton on everything from Benghazi to her email scandal to husband Bill Clinton.

“She is trying for the White House, she’s probably more qualified for the big house … She’s escaped prosecution more times than El Chapo. Perhaps Sean Penn should interview her. The woman should be prosecuted,” Fiorina said.

While Fiorina was forceful on stage, the surprise of the evening might have been former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, whose unexpected return to the GOP debate stage also grabbed him some much-needed attention on social media.

Gilmore, who only started campaigning in Iowa this week, delivered a one-two Donald Trump punch. Gilmore said he’s “the only veteran in this race” and then criticized Trump for holding a “faux” veterans fundraiser across town. He also staked out his positions on security and other matters.

The attacks were all part of an aggressive evening debate, preceding the prime-time debate with seven higher-polling candidates.

The undercard debate was quite aggressive, there was palpable irritation at the media on behalf of the candidates who felt slighted by the focus on Trump versus the rest of the field. Rick santorum probably had his strongest night of the campaign. Carly Fiorina also had some good lines and Huckabee gave his usual endearing performance.