Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Republican candidates took to the stage in Des Moines, Iowa, to demonstrate why they were qualified to be the next U.S. president. Noticeably absent from the event was the GOP’s outspoken front-runner, Donald Trump, who boycotted Thursday evening’s debate and opted instead to appear at a veterans fundraiser.

Seven candidates faced off on the main stage in Des Moines Thursday night, including Texas Sen. Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Even without Trump, who has gained a reputation for taking jabs at other candidates, the debate still had its moments. 

Here are a few:

Bush said he was proud to be from his family that he said has a solid record of leadership. He also said he was a transparent candidate who could go up against the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. "To get the information from Hillary Clinton you need to get a subpoena from the FBI," he said.



Cruz promised to make Iowa "fly-to country" and sardonically imitated Trump's jabs at the other candidates. "Everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly," he said.



Bush spoke about how he plans to defeat ISIS if elected president.



Cruz argued with moderator Chris Wallace over the debate rules.



Carson, who has often been criticized for his lack of government experience, said that wouldn't set him back. "You will hear the truth," he said.



As Trump spoke at a veterans event in Iowa, Bush said the next president must fix the Department of Veterans Affairs. "I will make sure that we fire the sheer incompetance inside the Department of Veterans Affairs," he said.


In a recent poll, Trump continued to hold a steady lead in the campaign race in Iowa. Trump received 32 percent support, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, leading Cruz, who had 25 percent. In third place sat Rubio at 18 percent. Other candidates polled with fewer than 10 percent.

GOP candidates were hoping Thursday night’s debate would offer them the boost needed to rise in Iowa. Many of the candidates have found it difficult to rise in the poll, as coverage of the GOP presidential race has largely been focused on Trump. The real estate tycoon announced he would not be attending the debate after getting into a fight with Fox News. During an earlier debate, he said he felt Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s questions were unfair.

GOP Republican U.S. presidential candidates stand at their podiums at the start of the debate held by Fox News for the top 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates in Des Moines, Iowa Jan. 28, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria