Ted Cruz: Fox News debate exchanges were much more civil

Texas senator reacts to 7th GOP debate, expands on immigration remarks on 'The Kelly File'


This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," January 28, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Tonight, a campaign season unlike any other, it's a dramatic turn with the two hour debate with the ages in Iowa.


KELLY:  Before we get to the issues let's address the elephant not in the room tonight.  Donald Trump has chosen not to attend this evening's presidential debate.

TED CRUZ, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The last four questions have been Rand, please attack Ted Marco, please attack Ted, Chris please attack Ted, Jeb, please attack Ted.  Let me just say this.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  It's a debate, sir.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Let me tell you who is not qualified to be the president of the United States, Chris. Hillary Rodham Clinton did that to our country.  She is not qualified to be president of United Sates.

MARCO RUBIO, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That is the book where you changed your position on immigration.  You used to support a path to citizenship.


RUBIO:  Well, but you changed.

BUSH:  Yes.

RUBIO:  . in the book.

BUSH:  So did you, Marco.


KELLY:  As all but one of the Republican presidential hopefuls face off in Des Moines.  Frontrunner Donald Trump a last minute no show, offering the rest of the field an opportunity to make their voices heard before the all-important Monday caucuses.


BEN CARSON, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have had more 2:00 a.m. phone calls then everybody here put together, making life and death decisions.

RAND PAUL, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don't think have you to give up your liberty for a false sense of security.

JOHN KASICH, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There is the establishment lane, DNI establishment lane, then, the "Kasich Lane".

RUBIO:  If I'm the nominee, I will unite this party and we will defeat Hillary Clinton and we will turn this country around once and for all after seven years of the disaster that is Barack Obama.  Thank you.


KELLY:  The Republican candidates have made more than 300 trips to the state combined, and if history is an indicator, many Iowa votes are still up for grabs.  Making this night perhaps the most important visit of all.  So who impressed?


BUSH:  The caliphate of ISIS has to be destroyed.  Give the lawyers of the damn (inaudible) of the military once and for all have a no-fly zone in Syria.

CRUZ:  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.

RUBIO:  Barack Obama wants America to be like the rest of the world.  We don't want to be like the rest of the world.  We want to be the United States of America.  And that is why Hillary Clinton cannot win this election.


KELLY:  Frank Luntz and his focus group of Iowa Republican caucus goers are here, plus we'll speak with presidential candidate Ted Cruz, fresh off from the debate stage.  And we have all-star analysts from Charles Krauthammer, Marc Thiessen, Chris Stirewalt, Howard Kurtz, and Bill Burton.  "The Kelly File" starts right now.

And hello again from Des Moines, different location but still here.  I'm Megyn Kelly.  Moments ago, seven of the top Republican presidential contenders face off for the final time before the Iowa caucuses.

And an issues focus debate the candidates addressed what's wrong with Washington, addressed illegal immigration, the threats from ISIS, social issues and even their own inconsistent statements, but perhaps one of the biggest stories of the night, not their attacks on one another, but on Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton.

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist, and in Fox News contributor and with me now, Charles, your thoughts.



KRAUTHAMMER:  Yes, I know I wasn't ready for that.  But I am ready for your question.  I thought this was a very interesting evening because the absence, well, I won't even say why.  It was a very spirited debate, it was much more substantive than about any other and there was almost none of the (inaudible) and the insults that one I heard in the earlier debates. It was a lot of a hard questioning and a lot of topics changes, but it did not having anything to do.  I thought with the kind of personal level that we heard before. I'll leave it to the viewers to figure out why.

Secondly, I thought it was interestingly the best night that Jeb had in all of the debates and I might even say I think he might have had the best night of the group in this debate.  He was very strong.  He had one moment where he kind of flipped back to Marco Rubio on the question of immigration.  Kind of a.


KELLY:  I think we have that.

KRAUTHAMMER:  Yes.  I think we've show that.

KELLY:  Let's take a listen then we'll get your thoughts.



RUBIO:  It's interesting that Jeb mentions the book.  That is the book where you changed your position on immigration because you used to support a path to citizenship.

BUSH:  So did you.

RUBIO:  Well, but you change that in the book.

BUSH:  So did you Marco.

When you led the charge with the gang of eight I supported because you asked me to.  I think it is important for people on elected office to try to force consensus to solve problems.  There is never going to be a perfect bill.

KELLY:  All right.

BUSH:  But when you didn't do that, and you asked people to support, you shouldn't cut and run.  Just stick with it.  And that's exactly what happened.  He cut and run and that's a tragedy.

RUBIO:  But, Megyn.

BUSH:  And now it's harder and harder and ask and solve this problem.

KELLY:  Go ahead.  This would be the last one.

RUBIO:  There's not going to be any consensus on this issue until we enforce our immigration laws.  That is abundantly clear.  Now, you were not going to be run down the throat of the American people your approach


KELLY:  Go ahead, Charles

KRAUTHAMMER:  What I've find ironic here is it was kind of a reversal of that moment in one of the earlier debates when there was tangle between Rubio and Bush, and Rubio turned a very strongly against Bush.

So I thought this is one debate where Bush did very well.  I thought in his own way, Christie did well.  He has a way of coming in after the others and arguing instead of rising above it and saying this is why you need to do or a governor et cetera., when you have that line about you need a dictionary to explain Washington speak into ordinary English, again setting himself aside.  He didn't have a soaring the moment, but I thought he did well.

Cruz and Rubio were the most interesting because they were the ones who have the most upstake (ph).  Each of them had their moments.  Cruz had a bit of a rocky start when he could attack, you as the moderators, for trying to cause arguments debate between you.  The crowd was not very appreciative of that.

And Rubio, I thought had his rockiest night.  He had a good moments, but I think on immigration where you show the contradiction between what he said a few years ago and what he said now, he had a really hard time arguing his way out of that box.

KELLY:  You know, we talk about that (fair amount) and -- I mean my own view on that was why is it -- why would I not show the audience what he said in his own words?  Why is it more effective for anchors to just to sit there and repeat it?  He's not going to deny that this is him and we'll make sure it's in context and it's fair.  And it is something.  Its -- the video portion is something to actually see them on camera saying the things and then having to explain them and there is no question that Senator Rubio has flipped significantly on this issue and it is a problem for him  with a lot if GOP voters.

KRAUTHAMMER:  Well you do the same with Cruz, you showed also his contradiction when he came out for.

KELLY:  Right.

KRAUTHAMMER:  . legalization, which he now says was really sort of a sham, he didn't really mean it.  Cruz, I thought had -- I'm not sure that his argument in the end is a better one but he made a better one tonight and he kind that wriggled out with slightly more the finesse and a sense of conviction than Rubio did in explaining the way his contradictions.

It so it was an interesting array and I thought -- I mean, I have a lot of affection for Rand Paul.  I disagree with him probably more on the issues and having than other candidates but he does show importance of libertarianism as a critique of the main stream conservatism, I don't think he affected his standing in either in anyway but having him on the stage I thought was an addition.

KELLY:  What did you think of Ted Cruz's manner?  Because normally he is very aggressive.  You know, he gets in there and he fights for his air time.  You know, some -- normally but not all the time but I though tonight maybe not less so.  What do you think?

KRAUTHAMMER:  Yes, I thought so.  But again, I think this wasn't I try to go the whole segment without saying his name.  But I'm going to fail right here.  I think it was in the absence of Trump.

KELLY:  You should feel free.

KRAUTHAMMER:  It is the absence of Trump because I think there wasn't that presence hanging over him.  And remember, among the field on the stage, he was a frontrunner. So, he was sort of wanting to sit more on his lead than he would if Trump were there.

I thought one of the most interesting aspects of the debate is how little people went after Trump.  The only one who ready be.

KELLY:  Right.

KRAUTHAMMER:  . and I thought it was rather nicely-delivered hit was by Jeb when he came out against the demonization of the other, particularly Muslims in response to the video that had been shown on Youtube.  And also I thought he made a good defense by the first time or rather forceful defense of his position on how to act in -- with ISIS in the Middle East.  Particularly since -- though the question had kind of a hook on it, mentioning the failures of his brother's policy in the Middle East.  He side stepped it and I thought he handled it very well.

KELLY:  Charles, great to see you.

KRAUTHAMMER:  My pleasure.

KELLY:  Well, at the end of the day, the candidates all wanted to do well. And that is essentially -- I mean this is a job interview for them, right?  Then the first voting begins on Monday, they want to have George Washington's job.  So what we really care about is what the voters think.

Pollster Frank Luntz has put together one of his powerful focus groups of Republican here in Iowa, dealing in on issues that matter most that they may not agree with Charles on everything.

Joining me now, Frank Luntz and his focus group.  Hi, frank.

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER:  Megyn, you asked probably the toughest questions of the debates, you gave the candidates no room to wiggle.  You pressed them.  And he responded.

I want to begin with the most important and impactful moment of this debate.  It was your challenge of Marco Rubio, and watch how well he did on immigration. Just take a look.


KELLY: He recorded on.

RUBIO:  Yes absolutely.  We are not going to round up and deport 12 million people but we're not going around handing out citizenship cards, either.  There will be a process.  We will see what the American people are willing to support but it will not be un-constitutional executive orders like the ones Barack Obama has forced on us.


LUNZT: What's your reaction?

I want to show the audience at home, how many of you walked in here supporting Marco Rubio?  Raise your hands? One, two, three of you.

How many of you are going home most likely to vote for Rubio?  Raise your hands.  That's the impact of a single debate.  Give me word or phrase describe Rubio.










UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Attractive opportunist.

LUNTZ: So tell me what is it about - there's always one and particularly in Iowa.

What is it - you got to explain to the American people what you saw tonight.  You dialed two hours' worth.  What did you see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he was honest.  I think he was believable.  And he didn't berate the other candidates on the stage.  He was positive and he kind of put Hillary in her spot as far as computers and Benghazi.

LUNTZ:  What was it?  Tell me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He's not only articulate but he tells it like it is.  He's very believable.  And he doesn't start attacking other people, other than.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He's staying on his game plan.  He's not worried about the negatives that are coming out and he's making them positive.

LUNTZ:  You're the youngest person in this room.  Were you able to vote in the last election?


LUNTZ:  So this will be your second time.


LUNTZ:  As a 22 year old, is it because Rubio is younger than the other candidates?  What attracts you to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  It's not because Rubio is younger, it's because Rubio is aspirational.  You know when he's going to do something it's going to be what he says.  He's honest, he seems like he has a vision for this country and that's the vision I want to live in.

LUNTZ:  And I have to tell you that very few people feel that way about politics.  They don't see it as aspirational.  They see it as negative. And they don't think anyone is honest.

But Megyn, the (inaudible) I sent you before its not the highest test of the night.  This is the highest test.  When Marco Rubio showed a little bit of humor and a significant amount of respect for our American heroes, the dials just went through the roof.

Let's take a look.


RUBIO: I think Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president of Sweden.  We don't want to be Sweden.  We want to be the United States of America.  And Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being the commander in chief of the United States.


LUNTZ:  You think she is disqualified.  Is that why you responded so well for this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes absolutely.  There's clear after you see in Rubio tonight especially with that answer.  That's why he's going to come across in the falls like a guy that would be hard for the Democrats to attack and he'd be the guy that's most electable and he's on right side of the issue.

LUNTZ:  Is he the most electable?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he does appeal to a lot of folks.  Even though here was some unsurety there with the back and forth on the immigration thing, he really stocked to a message.  And I think he also continue to put the focus on Hillary, which I really like.  When they got back and forth between each other, I really didn't care for that but when they started to differentiate themselves with their opposition and the other party that's where I really thought he made marks.

LUNTZ:  How many of you think Marco Rubio can defeat Hillary Clinton?  Raise your hands.


LUNTZ:  And here's my question, how many of you think he'll be the nominee?

He still got a way to go.

Megyn when we comeback, we're going to have a discussion that everybody wants to know the answer to, was Donald Trump impactful in his not being on air?  And I'm going to tell you that you're going to get a very surprising reaction.  Whether he made a mistake and how it impacted the other candidates who did participate.

KELLY:  All right nice speech.  Frank we look forward to that.  Thank you very much.  We'll be back to you in a bit.

Also ahead, one of the candidates you just saw on that stage is here.  You see him right now.  He's on his way to share his very first thoughts after leaving that stage.  Up next after this break, Texas Senator, Ted Cruz.


CRUZ:  Chris, I would note that the last four questions have been Rand, please attack Ted, Marco, please attack Ted, Chris, please attack Ted, Jeb, please attack Ted. Let me just say this.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST:  It is a debate, sir.

CRUZ:  No, no a debate actually is a policy issue.  But I will say this.  Gosh, if you guys say is asked one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.




CRUZ: You know, you claim it is tough talk to discuss carpet bombing.  It is not tough talk it is a different fundamental military strategy than what we've seen from Barack Obama.

Barack Obama right now, number one, over seven yeas has dramatically degraded our military.  You know, just two weeks ago was the 25th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf War.  When that war began, we had 8,000 planes.  Today we have about 4,000.  When that war began, we had 529 ships, today, we have 272.

You want to know what carpet bombing is?  It's what we did in the first Persian Gulf War.  Eleven hundred air attacks a day.  Saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy.  Right now.


KELLY:  That was a big moment for Senator Ted Cruz.  Tonight that he scored points with voters talking about rebuilding the U.S. military.

Joining us now, Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.   Senator great to see you.

CRUZ:  Megyn, it's great to be back.

KELLY:  I think that was one of your strongest moments.

CRUZ:  Thank you.

KELLY:  I mean just taking it off one by one because so many people had made an issue about the carpet and you were clearly ready to explain exactly what the plan is.

CRUZ:  Yeah.

KELLY:  . which isn't that easy to do.   I missed the complex issue.  How do you think it went?

CRUZ:  Look, I feel very good about it.  I think voters got a clear contrast.  And you know, particularly here in Iowa, as I mention we're 93 hours out. I mean it is -- this is the time people are making their decisions.  And I think you saw a real contrast between campaign conservatives and a candidate who has been a consistent, proven conservative over and over again.  I think that's what people of Iowa are looking for.  I think that's what people are looking for across the country.

KELLY:  Obviously, it's a very different dynamic tonight because we were missing the frontrunner, who decided not to come.  How did that change the experience for you?

CRUZ:  Well, you know, just before we went on air, you were joking that he was sort of like Voldemort, and he who must not be named.

KELLY:  Well that's how seemed -- well that's the anchors were saying that about you guys because none of you were -- was mentioning him.  And we wonder will you have a pact not to mention Donald Trump?

CRUZ:  You know, is that there was -- that certainly wasn't on mine.  I think that was organic.  I think it was just sort of natural we wanted to discuss the issues.  We got into some subset of disagreements which I think were healthy and productive.  I will say this, the exchange is, were much more civil.  You didn't have any gratuitous insults and I think that's something that the voters deserve, is an actual exchange where you can compare the candidate's records, the candidate's views, the candidate's vision.

KELLY:  Another thing that I noticed you tell me what felt but their -- the attack seems much more focused on you, your Democratic likely opponent, Hillary Clinton.

CRUZ:  Yeah.  Yeah.

KELLY:  And a little less on each other which you heard Frank Luntz' focus group say, they like.

CRUZ:  Yes.

KELLY:  They want to see you talking about her apparently.

CRUZ:  Well listen, we have got to win in 2016.  I mean, I think the stakes, they have never been higher.  There is an urgency about this election.  That I think, if we go another four, eight more years down this road, we risk losing the whole country.  And there comes a point where the.

KELLY:  But do you think that's getting lost?  Do you think that's getting lost?  Because so many of these debates they sort of, fizzle and there's - and they sharp elbows and they sort of, you know, big moments but you and Senator Rubio were both making bet that way.

CRUZ:  Yeah.

KELLY:  . who just made tonight.

CRUZ:  You know, I don't think it's being lost. I mean, we're doing a bus tour across the state of Iowa.  On Monday, we will complete what's called the full grasp, I would just go into all 99 counties and Senator Chuck Grassley does that every year.  And everywhere we go, we're seeing this incredible excitement.  You know, we were in a town of 600 people.  A 150 of the 600 came out to our event.

KELLY:  Pretty good.  

CRUZ:  Twenty five percent of the town.  I think people are really -- they're scared about what their kids are inheriting, their grand kids are inheriting and that urgency is really driving the excitement.

KELLY:  That's -- this is it.

CRUZ:  Yes.

KELLY:  I mean it's incredible to think the voting begins as you say, in 90 hours.

CRUZ:  Yeah.

KELLY:  Let's talk about that immigration exchange.

CRUZ:  Sure.

KELLY:  . that you and I had.  Because -- well, let's play a clip.  And then we'll get into it.  Watch this.


KELLY:  Was that all an act?  It was pretty convincing.

CRUZ:  You know the amendment you're talking about is one sentence, its 38 words.  Anyone can go online and and read exactly what it said.  In those 38 words it's said, anyone here illegally is permanently ineligible for citizenship.  It didn't say a word about legalization.

KELLY:  But the bill allow both.

CRUZ:  I introduced.

KELLY:  The bill you are amending allowed citizenship and legally.

CRUZ:  But Megyn, the bill was a thousand pages.  I introduced the series of amendments, each designed to fix problems on the bill.  The fact that each amendment didn't fix every problem didn't mean that I supported the rest of the bill .


KELLY:  So, what I was trying to get at there was, you know, the bill offer both, legalization and citizenship.  And you tried to take away citizenship which would have allow legalization still.  But, I mean, I was back in your record a lot to see -- did Ted Cruz really want legalization or didn't he?

I think the records supports you that you did not want it. I thought that it really was a poison pill amendment.  What I was trying to get to you is, it just seems weird for the average person to see like the acting, if when you're trying to sell saying I want the bill to pass.

CRUZ:  But, no, no what I said, is I want immigration reform to pass.

KELLY:  You also said the bill.

CRUZ:  I didn't say I want to bill to pass.

KELLY:  You did.  I have -- I have it many times.  

CRUZ:  I promise. I promise you.  

KELLY:  I played it. That's when -- it was the very time that we play, the very first one.  

CRUZ:  What I said is I want immigration reform to pass.  And I've laid out on my website an 11 page very, very detailed immigration plan that I would like to have passed.  We've got to secure the borders.  We've got stop illegal immigration.  We need to.

KELLY:  Who was talking about people coming out of the shadows?  It seems like acting.

CRUZ:  Well, look, what I often do, particularly when debating Democrats, and I was debating Chuck Schumer there.  He's used the language of the Democrats to show their hypocrisy because, you know what, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats talked about people coming out into the shadows but it wasn't about that.  It was about both.

KELLY:  And they were saying at the time that it wasn't about citizenship.  

CRUZ:  Yes.

KELLY:  And you were trying to put a lie to that?  Is that the -- as I read your testimonials on.

CRUZ:  Right.  Right.  

KELLY:  . that's how I read it.

CRUZ:  No, no that's exactly right.  They said it was all about bringing people out of the shadows.  So I said, "Well great, then you should be happy to take citizenship off the table."  And of course, Chuck Schumer responded, "If there is no citizenship, there is reform.  We'll kill the whole thing."

And, you know, there's an old joke that the new politically correct term for illegal aliens, is now undocumented democrats.  This was about votes and that amendment laid that there and when the hypocrisy was shown to the American people, that's one of the reasons we were able to kill it.

KELLY:  I got it.  

CRUZ:  And to why Jeff Sessions said, "If it wasn't for Cruz."

KELLY:  Yeah, he was with.

CRUZ:  But Jeff was.

KELLY:  So you just have to look at the party.

CRUZ:  He said, "If Ted wasn't there, this would have passed."

KELLY:  Listen, I wouldn't take this for a long time and I thought is he lying about this poison pill thing? The records support you that it was a poison pill.  It's just, you know, the -- you are running on being outside of the cartel.  It seemed a little cartely (ph).  You're playing a cartely (ph) game.

CRUZ:  But Megyn, I don't think it is at all.  When I campaigns for Senate, I said I was categorically opposed to amnesty.  And when I've got to the senate, I was categorically opposed to amnesty.  And today, I'm categorically opposed to amnesty.  You know what's interesting?  In the Republican field, I am the only person on that state, the only Republican running who opposes amnesty, who opposes a pathway to citizenship.  Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump, all three of them support a pathway to citizenship.

Right now, even Donald Trump who uses a lot of tough language, says that we should send people home but then let them back in and become citizens.  That as you know is what's called "Touch Back", the establishment Republicans, it's a form of amnesty.  The Trump touch back, where they fly home they touch the ground and come back as citizens. I am the only Republican running, who is consistently opposed amnesty every single day and will do so as president.

KELLY:  You do have a consistent record on that.  I will give you that, senator.  We did look back on that. Thank you very much and congratulations.

CRUZ:  Megyn, thank you very much and nice job tonight.

KELLY:  Thank you very much.  Appreciate it.  Well, still a lot more to come with Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Chris Stirewalt, Howie Kurtz all with us live right here, in De Moines, Iowa.  Don't go away, look at them, there they are.


CARSON:  You're not going to hear a lot of polished political speech from me, but you will hear the truth.  I've had more 2:00 a.m. phone calls than everybody here put together, making life and death decisions.




CRUZ:  Chris, I would note that the last four questions had been Rand, please attack Ted, Marco, please attack Ted, Chris, please attack Ted, Jeb, please attack Ted.  Let me just say this.

WALLACE:  It is a debate, sir.

KELLY:  We killed his line at the end.  He said and do we have in, you are to me I'm not going to leave.  Senator Ted Cruz and my co-moderator Chris Wallace involved in a bit of back and forth.  Joining me now, my debate co-moderators Baier, anchor, Special Report, and the man you just saw, Chris
Wallace, anchor of "Fox News Sunday".  Great to see you guys.


KELLY:  So haven't spoken yet because I had a run way up to say.  What you guys think?

BAIER:  Well, first of all did you make the elevator?

KELLY:  I did.  Yes.  I ran in these heels.  It was not easy.  Trust me on that.

BAIER:  I thought was good.  I thought it was substantive.  I was worried to be honest at the beginning that they were somehow sedated.  Like something was going wrong.  I expected this and they come out full guns about Trump but.

KELLY:  Yeah.

BAIER:  . they I think, collectively each individually.

KELLY:  I know.

BAIER:  . made the case that, you know, we're not going to talk about it.

KELLY:  We why would we give him the air time they appeared to feel.  I asked Ted Cruz whether they had some agreement.  And he said, "No, that happened to organically."  And I guess nobody really was in the mood to sort of acknowledge the man who is the front runner here in Iowa, Chris.

WALLACE:  Well, it wasn't just that they didn't go after Trump for a remarkable they breathed.  They didn't go after each other.  I mean, they were - but we it's a debate.  So you want to get contrast.  You wanted to get people and they have different opinions on different issues and repeated like we would set it up.

I mean, I remember one when I was asking Rubio about Christie's position on a bunch of issues that they just agreed about and Rubio's said, why don't you to my website?

KELLY:  I have to do.

WALLACE:  And I was like, thank you very much senator.

KELLY:  That's something helpful right now.

WALLACE:  But, you know, we're deciding.  And then (inaudible) because it tells what's going on.  In their minds he said, I didn't know like is look at the clock.  He thinks this might be my last 60 second answer.  I wanted to get my message in.

BAIER:  We did talk to him afterwards in the hallway and that they said that, you know, Rubio said and others said that they blocked out how many questions they thought they could get in the remaining blocks.

I mean these guys -- that goes to show you that they've through now seven debates.

KELLY:  Yeah.

BAIER:  .and they get it.  They know.

KELLY:  They realize the value of the air time.  It's like you don't get this opportunity to be in front of this many millions of people.

Senator, if Trump (inaudible) he was saying that Rand Paul added something to it for him.  I thought so, too.He sort of the spicy guy at the end.  He plugs in his bombs and the other guys feel like, "Whoa, wait.  Are you what?"

BAIER:  Yeah.

KELLY:  Right?  He was then to see and I thought if the person who took a lot of incoming tonight that we haven't seen the last debate was Hillary Clinton.

WALLANCE:  Yeah, they clearly have made -- I mean I think that was part of it.  They seem even if they informally to have a none aggression pact, they weren't going to fight against each other and a lot of them, all of them in a sense were going to turn their fire instead on Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton and, you know, instead of fighting inside the party, let's focus on the general election.

KELLY:  Well, that this thing is we didn't have to use, within that is quick back and forth between our outlines.  Because before we came on the air, we actually were interrupted to the very last minute in there.

BAIER:  It's fully size pieces.

KELLY:  Whether Donald Trump would show up or not.  There had been front some buzz he might come at the last minute.  So we actually have -- what I have it here.  So I have my no Trump.

BAIER:  Yeah.

KELLY:  . outline.  And I have my Trump outline.

BAIER:  I have a W slash O Trump.

KELLY:  Yeah.

BAIER:  Without Trump and with Trump.

KELLY:  Yes.

WALLANCE:  Actually, the with Trump was called Trump surprise outline.

KELLY:  Surprise.

WALLACE:  And it was literally all the questions were going to be reconfigured and it didn't happen.

KELLY:  This is it.  These are two.  This is all no Trump, and this Megyn
Trump surprise.

BAIER:  There you go.

KELLY:  This one did not happen.

BAIER:  No it did not happen.  Listen, I think you would substantive.  I think in and for voters in Iowa, that's issues.  That's what they want to hear.

KELLY:  Yes.

BAIER:  I thought the immigration back and forth was really in interesting.

WALLACE:  Fascinating.

BAIER:  . and brilliant.

KELLY:  I want that be able -- been an exciting section which we know it would be.  It's been a pleasure gentleman.

BAIER:  Always.

KELLY:  Yeah, looking forward to doing again in March.

BAIER:  We will.

KELLY:  I know.  Back to work immediately.  And as Chris and Brett just mentioned the candidate largely opted not go after the man not in the room, Donald Trump.  But that doesn't mean that they avoided the issue all together, watch.


KELLY:  Before we get to the issues, let's address the elephant not in the room tonight.  Donald Trump has chosen not to attend this evening's presidential debate.

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 got in the Donald Trump portion out of the way.

RUBIO:  Chris, let's begin by being clear what this campaign as about.  It's not about Donald Trump.  He's an entertaining guy, the greatest show on earth.

BUSH:  I kind of miss Donald Trump.  He was little teddy bear to me.  We always had such a loving relationship.  There is debates and in between in 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.


KELLY:  Joining me now, host of Fox News Media Buzz Howard Kurtz and Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt.  Hey guys?



KELLY:  What you doing?


KELLY:  Thank you.


KELLY:  What do you think?  How did it go?

CHRIS STIREWALT, DIGITAL POLITICS EDITOR:  For the humans running for president?

KELLY:  Yes.

STIREWALT:  OK, I guess that's important.  Because people are going to vote and.

KELLY:  You're thinking about Fox News?

STIREWALT:  Of course, yes.  All right, OK.

KELLY:  Chris is part of the debate prep team that's why.

STIREWALT:  What a great job.  But, look, for the participants you got to say Ted Cruz suffered the most for -- he got big advantage out of Trump not being there because he was center stage.  But he suffered the most for not Trump not being there because he took more bean balls.

KELLY:  Yes, he would be incoming.

STIREWALT:  . bang, bang, bang, on him.  Marco Rubio had a close call because a somewhat reenergized at slightly we'll call at not high energy Jeb that was said media man or Jeb Bush.

KELLY:  Yeah.

STIREWALT:  . came out had some effective attack.  Rubio seemed to lose his footing for a second.

KELLY:  He was a what's happening are here?

STIREWALT:  Where is this person?

KELLY:  What?

STIREWALT:  Yeah, who is - who ate his Wheaties?  But then, he got it back.  Rubio got back to the place that he was.  Christie also had a good night.  I think they all look pretty good.

KELLY:  What did you think?

KURTZ:  What we saw tonight was the ultimate universe.  Who wouldn't have had a Donald Trump stayed in The Apprentice.

KELLY:  Right.

KURTZ:  And his absence complying with the tough questions from the moderators, I think had mostly candidates off bounds at various times, that exchange on the immigration when you played the video montage of what Senator Cruz, Senator Rubio apparently conflicting statements.  They had difficulty answering those questions.  It was not a good moment for either one of them.

And so, it's hard to pick a winner because I think these guys were on the defensive.  And enable Chris Christie that moment to come and say," Stop the Washington bull.  This is the way senator's talk."

STIREWALT:  What she calls flip 43 and he it slide, flip bang.

KELLY:  Can you think it was anybody who had a stand -- who helped himself?  
I mean, like Jeb Bush (inaudible) have been to load.  Do you think the advance and outside of Jeb Bush, did anybody got and help themselves?

STIREWALT:  So, for Jeb Bush, the need is to stop the what's happening right now is a third of the party is starting to call at last and think about is Marco Rubio the guy that we need so that we can have a moral electable take a safer bet for the general election.  And they're starting move that they're, Jeb Bush needs to delay their decision to slow that down.

I think he did a better job tonight from himself.  But I think that Rubio in the moments that he was being the poor Rubio ensuring and doing all of the things with the feelings and the good words as all that was happening.  I think he did himself better off.

KELLY:  How about John Kasich?

KURTZ:  John Kasich had his moments.  I didn't.

KELLY:  I don't believe you when the raise the voice like that.

KURTZ:  You know.

STIREWALT:  This is not New Hampshire.

KURTZ:  Yeah, I think he plays better New Hampshire.  But also about Ted Cruz is even though I say, so to think he was under defensive.  He probably emerged the best because remember, we're in Iowa.  He's neck and neck with Donald Trump in Iowa.  Trump doesn't show up.  His staff was worried that he was going to be walking here bloodied, that didn't happen.  He got Nick and the stars.

KELLY:  He showed up and he answered the tough questions.


KELLY:  And he should be given credit for that.

STIREWALT:  And he spoke directly Iowa voters.  I don't know how this debates going to affect his trajectory nationally about all of that stuff.  But his message for Iowa voters and what he said off the top and speaking right to them that will help him.

KELLY:  It's not like the Fox News debate moderators are known for their softball questions.


KELLY:  So these guys knew they came, they answered.  They emerged on their feet standing.

STIREWALT:  It's the big leagues.

KELLY:  Great to see you both.


KELLY:  Just ahead, two former White House insiders Marc Thiessen and Bill Burton on what they thought for tonight's big surprises.


RUBIO:  So let's begin by being clear what this campaign is about.  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.  You see we usually elect presidents in America that want to change the things are wrong in America.

Barack Obama wants to change America.  Barack Obama wants America to be like the rest of the world.  We don't want to be like the rest of the world.  We want to be the United States of America.  And that is why.



CHRISTIE:  I heard what they said and this is why you need to send someone from outside of Washington to Washington.  I feel like I need a Washington-English dictionary converter, right?  I mean I heard what they both said I saw it on the video and the fact this is what makes it difference when you're Governor, you can change your mind, (inaudible) change his mind Marco can change his mind it's perfectly legal in this country to change your mind.  But when you're a Governor you have to admit it.  You can't hide behind parliamentary tricks.  That's the difference and that's the kind of leader we need in the White House stop the Washington poll and let's get things done.


KELLY:  That was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suggesting the White House needs someone like say a state executive instead of a Washington lawmaker?  Joining me now, Bill Burton.  He's a former White House deputy press secretary for President Obama.  And Marc Thiessen is a former Chief Speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Fox News contributor.  Good to see you both.


KELLY:  What did you think?

BILL BURTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY:  It was a good debate.  They're sensitive but I think that there was a real conversation that you haven't seen in other debates because of you know who not being there.  

KELLY:  I'm aware people not saying Donald Trump's name tonight?

BURTON:  Oh what (inaudible) Donald Trump he's not there.


BURTON:  No I think that tonight they're right before the caucuses. People are looking at how the candidates are feeling and I think you got a real sense of who felt like they're doing well and who felt like they're not doing that well?

KELLY:  What did you think Marc?

THIESSEN:  I thought it was amazing.  This was the debate the campaign we're supposed to have before Donald Trump jumped in to the race and offended everything.  This is the, you know, Rand Paul said before the debate that the IQ level is going to go up it did.  I mean, you know, we were debating Muslim bans and low (inaudible) of Vladimir Putin, we were absolutely debating serious sensitive issues that might actually happen if somebody was elected.

KELLY:  That is a fascinating observation, fascinating because honestly we had as I mentioned before our two outlines.  Because up until the last minute, you know, (inaudible) were saying he might show up.  So you've got to be prepared.  And let me tell you it would have looked very different and issues we discuss would have felt very different.  And if he had been there because of the issues he injected into the campaign.

BURTON:  Very much so.

KELLY:   Do you think (inaudible) the Republicans benefit though?

THIESSEN:  I think it did absolutely.  And look, I mean we'll find out.  You know, the big winner or loser tonight is Donald Trump.  We just don't know which one yet we'll find out on Monday.  If he pulls off a win in Iowa then he'll be a political genius for skipping this debate.  If he loses narrowly because there's one-third of the voters in this state have still so much change their mind.  Look at Frank's focus group and people are changing their position.

KELLY:  Yeah.

THIESSEN:  . right there in from of our very eyes.  So Donald Trump lost.  He skipped the last job interview and that can always hurt him.

KELLY:  What is your experience, Bill?  Because you've been part of a team that actually got a president elected by coming through Iowa and this is a huge state for you guys. You won it.  I mean in the end I won't hearing talk about maybe Huckabee surging?  Talk of Carson surging.  And those guys are definitely take it from Cruz.

BURTON:  Well you know what is funny about Huckabee, I was in the back we are watching we had a split screen we're just seeing what was going on the Trump rally but listening to the debate.  And Huckabee was up on stage with Donald Trump at the same time his attack ad on Trump was running which was an amazing thing to watch.

KELLY:  Politics is the weirdest ever.

BURTON:  It is the weirdest thing.  It's the weirdest thing ever. And I've been on the winning side of the Iowa caucus and losing side.  And they feel vastly different from the days (inaudible).  I remember 2004 working for Dick Gephardt, walking into an event the days before Iowa.  He gave me a hug and he said thank you for your help and I said, you know, what that's nice.  But then it was like wait you don't hug your staff and then thank them right before you think your campaign is going to go on.  Both Obama in those last days, you know, the one candidate who exceeded the kind of confidence that Obama have in the final days for Iowa oddly was Jeb Bush.  I think Jeb Bush.

KELLY:  You think his got some good news coming his way?

BURTON:  I think that he felt good.  He felt like he had nothing to lose and plus his bully wasn't on stage pushing him around.  So it I think that he was open to have.

KELLY:  He had a couple good lines too.  He had a couple good line with Jeb Bush I mean he definitely seems a little he seemed a little looser tonight and Krauthammer suggested he didn't come right out and said he suggested he might have maybe almost won it.

THIESSEN:  I think that is probably a slight exaggeration.

KELLY:  It's a great (inaudible).  Who would you think won it?

THIESSEN:  I think who I think won it honestly is Marco Rubio.  I think Rubio, number one, well I think we saw the reason why (inaudible) NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll Rubio has gone in the last month from 9 percent support to 18 percent.  He doubled his support in Iowa.

And the reason he was - he ignored Donald Trump.  He mostly ignored the other candidates unless he was attacked.  Passed up opportunities to attack Christie and others and he relentlessly went after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  I think his best moment was when he said that Hillary Clinton and that if she's elected president she maybe the first president to pardon herself, you know?  But he just went after them.

BURTON:  Sweden was maybe (inaudible).

THIESSEN:  That it was part of the same line there.  But he was if he just relentlessly went after them or he said twice, Hillary Clinton is going to appoint Barack Obama to the Supreme Court which is like the most horrific thought for a conservative Republican.  I know not for you but most of the people in the building.

And, you know, so -- and then he said when I'm president this is what I'm going to do in.  So it I think that really resonate with voters.

KELLY:  Well, the other thing about Rubio is that exchange we had on, you know, his past positions on immigration. That is what a core part of the GOP feels when they look at Marco Rubio.  You said one thing and he another and he work for amnesty.

But in the room, everyone applauded and there's this other huge section of the GOP that wants at the immigration reform.  That's the bust that Marco Rubio was on back in 2013 and now, you know, anyway.

BURTON:  Well, you know, what's interesting about that is that he made the same mistake that he did in the first debate with you when you questioned him on abortion  and he stop and he said no, no actually I'm the more conservative less electable position.  He did the same thing here in immigration.  I think that that exchange is going to come back to on him should he be the nominee?

KELLY:  Thanks to you both.  It's over between us.

BURTON:  All right.

KELLY:  All right.  Up next, Frank Luntz return with our panel of Republican voters and wait until you hear their thoughts on the man not for this on tonight's debate stage.  Businessman Donald Trump, don't miss this.


KELLY:  All right.  Well, Frank is talking to the focus group and he get another few interesting takeaways.  Frank, what is the story?

LUNTZ:  Megyn, watch this.  Donald Trump watches the show religiously.  I want to -- stop laughing.  I want to know how many of you think Trump should have been in this debate today.  So what message would you have for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Intentional or not intentional, he should have been on the stage tonight but he inflicted some serious damage on Cruz.  Cruz had to take the earls tonight.  And I think now a Trump-Rubio contest.

LUNTZ:  Your reaction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe that he owed it to this people of Iowa to come in and make his closing arguments and all of a sudden this became about him.  And, you know, what happened with Fox News -- and it was -- to me, a lame excuse.

LUNTZ:  Somebody else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The election is too important to play games with.  I feel like it was a game on his part.

LUNTZ:  I want -- somebody is going to defend Trump in the back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By Donald Trump not showing up tonight, he just won Iowa.

LUNTZ:  Why do you say that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because he exposed the establishment for what they are.

LUNTZ:  Do you guys agree with that?

ALL:  No.

LUNTZ:  How many of you think Trump is going to win Iowa?  So not that many of you.  You're the one of the youngest people here, your reactions in not being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are too worried about being politically correct nowadays.  Trump may have an ego but that ego gets him places in life.  And so far, I think Trump is going to win our nomination.

LUNTZ:  So you still believe in Trump?


LUNTZ:  Your reactions in not being here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don't know that I believe in him and want him but he's -- it's going to just happen, he's a reality star.  It's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He had nothing to lose but -- or nothing to -- he had only to lose -- sorry, by coming tonight.  So he won't have necessarily gained that he think if he came here.

LUNTZ:  Do you think it was smart decision?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it was very smart in not to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He's shown multiple times that he no respect for the American people or the people of Iowa.

LUNTZ:  Does he respect the people of Iowa?



LUNTZ:  Last one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He's too narcissistic.

LUNTZ:  Narcissistic?


LUNTZ:  You know, he can find you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I'm right here.

LUNTZ:  Megyn, I just want you to know that that was Gary who said that comment about Trump and Gary lives in West Des Moines.  Back to you.

KELLY:  Thanks to all of your focus group.  Thank you again Frank.  Great to see you all.  We'll be right back.  Don't go away.


KELLY:  I feel like I'm exhausted.  How are you feeling?  What did you think of tonight's debate?  Go at  Follow me on Twitter @MegynKelly.  Let me know what you thought.

How are you feeling?  What are you thinking?  Keep it pithy as Bill would say.  I'm Megyn Kelly.  This "The Kelly File."  Sean is up next, live.


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