Fox starts debate with question on absent Trump

Fox News host Megyn Kelly began Thursday night's GOP presidential debate with a softball, asking Ted CruzTed CruzStephen Hawking: Trump a 'demagogue' Dems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker MORE to "address the elephant not in the room." 
 
Kelly, who has been at the center of Trump's feud with Fox News, asked Cruz to comment on the party front-runner's decision to skip Thursday's contest, which has cast a shadow over the final debate before Monday's caucuses. 
 
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Cruz, Trump's main rival to win on Monday, responded with a series of comments highlighting Trump's style of insulting his opponents.
 
"I am a maniac," Cruz said. "And everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. 
 
"And Ben," the Texas senator added, referring to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, "you're a terrible surgeon."
 
"Now that we've got the Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump slams 'totally biased' judge in Trump U case Ex-pharma CEO Martin Shkreli: I didn’t endorse Trump Five things Clinton needs to do to win the California primary MORE portion out of the way," Cruz joked, he wanted to thank the people of Iowa for showing him and his family great hospitality over the last year."
 
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) followed Cruz with a comment about how the debate and the race for the White House was about more than Trump.
 
"It's not about Donald Trump, he's an entertaining guy. This campaign is about a president who has systematically destroyed much of the things that make this country great," he said, referring to President Obama.
 
Trump is holding a separate event for wounded veterans a few miles away from the debate site in Des Moines.
 
Fox News admitted earlier on Thursday that it was prepared with an extra podium should the real estate mogul show up unexpectedly during the debate, but the billionaire shut down the idea, saying it was too late and that Fox News had been begging him to reconsider.
 
Trump said Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes has called him every 15 minutes and he’s spoken with Ailes, according to The Washington Post. 
 
“The time to change my mind would have been two days ago,” he said.