Here are 3 things that were different -- and 3 that were the same -- without Donald Trump in the GOP debate
Donald Trump (a katz / Shutterstock.com)

For all of those people who wanted to know what a debate would look like without Donald Trump, you found out Thursday night.


It was a dull and dry policy debate between a bunch of nerds unafraid of the school bully. For those who enjoy watching all of the candidates get beat up by Trump, it was a little lighter and fluffier. It allowed the candidates to attack the guy who wasn't there. It's like yelling at the school bully as he's walking away trying to pretend you're the badass one.

In that spirit, here are three things that were different and three things that were the same without Donald Trump on the debate stage.

Different: 

1. Time to attack the guy who isn't there

You know that Trump is going to play off Thursday's debate like he's a victim. It'll certainly be unbearable. Without the frontrunner on the stage, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio took an opportunity to go after him:

Ted Cruz: "Let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon. Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way." Two sentences later: "Let me be clear, if Donald engages in insults or anybody else, I don't intend to reciprocate. I have not insulted Donald personally and I don't intend to."

This would have been a good joke if Cruz didn't have to turn around and explain it to the people already laughing.

Another hilarious Trump reference that Cruz made was when he said, “I may have to leave the stage."

Rubio: "He's an entertaining guy. He's the greatest show on earth. This campaign is about the greatest country in the world and a president who has systematically destroyed many of the things that made America special."

At one point Rubio also reassured the debate moderators that he wasn't leaving the stage regardless of what they asked him.

Bush: "I kind of miss Donald Trump. He was a little teddy bear to me. We always had such a loving relationship in these debates and in between and the tweets. I kind of miss him. I wish he was here. Everybody else was in the witness protection program when I went after him on behalf of what the Republican cause should be: conservative principles, believing in limited government, believing in accountability."

Bush's slams on Trump were the best for those that appreciate sarcasm, but did the people in the audience get it?

2. More candidates got more time

Without Trump on stage, suddenly people had an opportunity to hear more from candidates that generally get glossed over. For the first time ever, Marco Rubio actually had more time to speak on stage and it may result in a surge in the polls for him.

Cruz was second behind him, but his performance left much to be desired. Let's be honest, he sucked like an octopus on Chris Christie's face. Cruz needed to crush it tonight. He didn't.

Some of the best tongue-in-cheek comments and quick comebacks came from Jeb Bush, who got the third most amount of time. Without Trump there to bully him and get under his skin, it seemed like Bush had an opportunity to relax and actually connect to voters.

The rest of the candidates, let's be honest -- it doesn't matter how much time they get, they're never going to win.

3. Ted Cruz became the moderators' enemy

The debate rules state that if a candidate slams you in their answer, you have time to respond. The moderators, however, try to stir up some dirt and see if they can get the other candidates to create some good TV. Most didn't take the bait but it certainly got under Cruz's skin and made for a hilarious bit of schadenfreude:

CRUZ: Chris? Chris I was mentioned in that question.

BUSH: No, you weren't. Your name wasn't mentioned, Ted.

CRUZ: Actually, I was.

BUSH: Chris, keep it coming.

WALLACE: I don't think that your name was mentioned.

CRUZ: Chris, your questions that you.

WALLACE: Sir, I think -- I think the question was...

CRUZ: What was your question?

WALLACE: It's not my question that you get a chance to respond to, it's his answer.

WALLACE: You don't get 30 seconds to respond to me.

CRUZ: Your question was, you have disagreed.

WALLACE: You don't get 30 seconds to respond to me.

(later)

CRUZ: Chris, I would note that that the last four questions have been, "Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted."

CRUZ: Let me just say this.

WALLACE: It is a debate, sir.

ZING!

Same:

1. Ben Carson still didn't make any sense

Here's a list of things Ben Carson said that I still can't figure out:

"The American people are terrified. That's why we have this abnormal situation going on right now."

Does he mean the debate, the caucus, his life? What situation are we talking about, Ben?

"Well, I don't know about the GOP messaging, but I can tell you about my messaging."

Really? Are you not at these debates? How do you not know the messaging from your own party?

"If you've got 10 people coming to your house and you know one of them is a terrorist, you're probably going to keep them all out."

The point is that we don't know whether there are terrorists coming to "your house," to use the metaphor. If you do know, however, that one of them is a terrorist then you generally keep that terrorist out. That's where intelligence comes into play. Idiot.

"You know, we probably have to figure out a way to make sure that we keep America safe."

You know, maybe. If you have time in between golf games. Just a thought.

"Look, first of all, I recognize that Vladimir Putin is an opportunist and he's a bully, and we have to face him down. And I would -- first of all, face him down in that whole region, the whole Baltic region. I think we need to put in some armored brigades there. We only have one or two. We need much more than that. We need to be doing military exercises if not only Estonia but Latvia and Lithuania. They're terrified by the saber rattling. I think we ought to put in our missile defense system."

Can anyone decipher this? Does it sound like he's talking about ground troops in the Baltics and in Russia?

"Well, as anyone knows who's been listening to me, you know? I'm very much against the government being involved in every aspect of our lives, you know?"

This was the beginning of Ben Carson's answer on where he stands on mandatory ethanol standards. Seriously.

2. Rand Paul tried to make everyone else look stupid, but especially Cruz and Rubio

Paul is a policy wonk. You kind of have to be if you're going to be in the libertarian wing of the GOP because you have to know what government stuff you actually want to cut -- presumably. When Paul speaks he has this air of arrogance and eye-rolling about him and no one was safe from it.

On Cruz:

"Ted said he was for NSA reform, but then he told Marco Rubio, 'No, no, no, I voted for the bill because I'm for the government collecting 100 percent of your cell phone records.' I don't think Ted can have it both ways."

And

"But if you defeat Assad, what you will wind up with is a larger and more powerful ISIS that occupies that space. You might -- you may well see an ISIS that takes over all of Syria."

To Rubio:

"The bulk collection of your phone data, the invasion of your privacy did not stop one terrorist attack. I don't think you have to give up your liberty for a false sense of security.

"When we look at this bulk collection, the court has looked at this. Even the court declared it to be illegal. If we want to collect the records of terrorists, let's do it the old fashioned way. Let's use the Fourth Amendment. Let's put a name on a warrant, let's ask a judge for it. Let's respect the history of our country."

And

"Yeah, no, I think that's a -- that's a huge mistake, to be closing down mosques. But I would say that if you want to defend the country, it begins with border security. And this is where I've had my disagreement with Senator Rubio."

3. Chris Christie wants to scare the heck out of everyone like he's running back in 2004 and always looks like a giant hypocrite

Why is Chris Christie still running? He has to know that there is zero chance he gets out of the caucus alive not to mention the primary. Does he want a cabinet post? Is he auditioning for Attorney General?

"Well, let me say that I do believe that the vote on NSA made the country less safe."

If you read Rand Paul's response, you know why this is a little foolish. But prosecutors like Christie want a blank check to do whatever they want and circumvent the Constitution. Not classy.

"They knew that they were talking about trying to take our country and attack it....They knew they were talking about the issues of attacking people, Megyn. They knew that."

This was a slice of Christie's answer to racial profiling. Afraid yet?

"They're not supporting our law enforcement officers, it's making everybody nervous to get out of their cars, if you're a law enforcement officer. It's making people in neighborhoods nervous to go to law enforcement. As president, I will support law enforcement and we'll stop radical terrorist attacks in this country by supporting our intelligence community and law enforcement community."

Did Chris Christie just try to equate Black Lives Matter with terrorists?

Moderator: "Can the GOP take the chance of nominating you with this scandal still out there, sir?"

Christie: "Sure, because there has been three different investigations and proven that I knew nothing"

Funny, there have been eight different investigations on Hillary Clinton that proved she did nothing wrong and yet that isn't acceptable. Maybe we need five more investigations into Christie.

"On September 11, my wife was two blocks from the World Trade Center. When those buildings came down, she was trapped in her building and I didn't hear from her over six hours."

"I've prosecuted terrorists. I have made the decisions that need to be made as a governor to protect us and as president of the United States, no one will keep this country safer than I will."

Be afraid -- be very afraid!

Another debate has come and gone and all we're left with is a half empty can of stale beer and the stench of BS in the air.