It’s election season alright. Tonight’s debate is the first in a three-week block of successive Republican debates. The debate’s setting the tone for the next two given its unexpected absence of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. The businessman pulled out of the seventh debate, hosted by Fox News, amid personal issues with Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who will be moderating a GOP debate for a second time. 

When Kelly moderated the first GOP debate in August she asked Trump about previous sexist comments he had made against women. Trump didn’t take too kindly to the question and thus began the start of an ongoing feud with Kelly who he alleges doesn’t treat him fairly and who he recently called a “lightweight reporter.” Since Fox News refused to drop Kelly as a moderator he walked leaving the stage open for his opponents. Ted Cruz who has been steadily trailing Trump will have a chance to sway some voters, and inevitably attack an absent Trump in Des Moines, Iowa just says before Monday’s Iowa caucus.

Donald Trump didn’t pull a bait and switch as many expected to happen tonight and so his GOP opponents have channeled Trump in spirit. One-half of the Trump-Cruz bromance, Cruz, gave this hearty impression: 

 

Meanwhile Marco Rubio lamented Trump’s absence calling him “the greatest show on earth.” Sorry, Ringling Bros. Jeb! Bush said, “I kinda miss Donald trump. He was a teddy bear to me.”

Trump, who skipped the debate and held an event to fundraise for wounded soldiers, told CNN that Fox had apologized. Fox is now saying that was a lie. The network also revealed Trump asked Fox for $5 million to be donated to his charities in order for him to appear at the debate. Fact: Trump actually once said skipping debates was "cowardly." 

Cruz, feeling personally victimized by Megyn Kelly Fox, threatens to pull a Trump and leave the debate. “If you guys ask one more mean question I may have to leave the stage,” Cruz said, complaining that Fox has asked his opponents questions to attack him. Rubio quips back laughing, “Don’t worry I’m not leaving the stage no matter what you ask me.”

Rand Paul, back at the main stage for this debate, talks about supporting criminal justice reform in response to a question from an African American veteran who lives near Ferguson. Paul cited the “disproportionate” number of African American men imprisoned for low level drug offenses in comparison to white men as the reason the reform is necessary. He says the Republican party needs to get behind it. 

Cruz teamed up with Snapchat for this special Trump filter. Word to Donald Duck.

In an argument with Rubio about flip-flopping stances on immigration Bush plugs his book Immigration Wars, available for "$2.99 on Amazon." Fox goes after Rubio, Bush, and Cruz, hitting them with the #wellactually showing footage of what they’ve previously said about granting undocumented people amnesty or “legalization.”  At one point Rubio attacks Bush, “You changed your position, you used to support a path to citizenship.” Bush responds, “So did you!"

Rubio asked about once being referred to as the “savior” of the GOP: "There's only one savior, and it's not me. It's Jesus Christ." In a separate question where he was questioned about his poll performance in his home state of Florida Rubio said he had no doubt he’d win the nomination. He took the opportunity to make jabs at Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton: “I think Bernie Sanders would be a great president…of Sweden.” Rubio, calling out Sanders for being a "socialist" said "We don't want to be Sweden." On Hillary: "One of Hillary Clinton’s first acts of president may very well be to pardon herself."

Ben Carson in one of the few times he’s spoken tonight answers a question about foreign policy. “Vladimir Putin is an opportunist,” said Carson. “He’s a bully. We need to face him down.”

Bush, answering a question about the “toxic climate” in the U.S. against Muslims, braves a hit against Trump criticizing him: “Disparaging women, Hispanics and the disabled isn't a sign of strength. It's a sign of weakness.” Bush is referencing Trump's call for a Muslim ban in the U.S., his racist comments on Latinos, and comments on women including Megyn Kelly.