The absent Donald Trump was merely a footnote during Thursday two-hour Republican Party debate Thursday as the candidates mostly focused on foreign policy and the Islamic State group, even if the question was on domestic policy.
Seven of the leading eight GOP candidates took the stage in Des Moines four days before the Iowa caucus trying to make one last pitch to the state's voters. For the first time, Sen. Ted Cruz stood center stage, as Trump opted to sit out the debate and instead host an event at nearby Drake University.
Rather than drone on Trump's absence, candidates mostly discussed how they would defeat terrorism, and how they would defeat Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Clinton and President Barack Obama's name were mentioned more times during Thursday's debate than Trump.
Ted Cruz said he would promise to build up the U.S. military with money freed up by tax and regulatory cuts from a throttled American economy. He did so while defending votes he made in the U.S. Senate that cut military spending.
"I will apologize to nobody for the vigorousness with which I will fight terrorism, go after ISIS, hunt them down wherever they are, and utterly and completely destroy ISIS," Cruz said.
Fellow U.S. Senator Marco Rubio challenged Cruz for his vote in the Senate.
"The only budget that Ted has ever voted for is a budget that Rand Paul sponsored that brags about cutting defense spending. And I think that's a bad idea for the following reason," Rubio said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the moderators that he believes the way to defeat IS with troops on the ground.
"We want to destroy ISIS, it has to be in the air and on the ground. It has to be with our friends in the Arab world and our friends in Europe, the coalition that we had when we went to the first Gulf War," Kasich said.
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie was asked to clarify a statement he made about Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to allow her county to sign marriage licenses. Christie used the question as an opportunity to talk about how he would defeat IS and defend religious liberty.
"They want everyone in this country to follow their religious beliefs the way they do," Christie said. "They do not want us to exercise religious liberty. That's why as commander in chief, I will take on ISIS, not only because it keeps us safe, but because it allows us to absolutely conduct our religious affairs the way we find in our heart and in our souls."
As one of two sitting governors on the main stage, Kasich was asked about the situation in Flint, Mich., where residents are being encouraged to avoid consuming water as it contains high levels of lead.
"I don't know all the details of what Rick Snyder has done," Kasich said. "I know there have been people who have been fired; people who are being held accountable. But the fact is, every single engine of government has to move when you see a crisis like that."
Unlike recent Democratic Party debates, climate change was only discussed once during Thursday's debate. Rubio was asked if he had changed his position on climate change and and establishing a cap- and-trade system for carbon emissions.
"I do not believe that we have to destroy our economy in order to protect our environment," Rubio said. "And especially what these programs are asking us to pass that will do nothing to help the environment, but will be devastating for our economy.
"When I am president of the United States of America, there will never be any cap-and-trade in the United States."
The candidates will only have to wait eight days between now and the next GOP debate.