What to Look for in a Debate Without Donald Trump

We've been wondering since these debates started, and Thursday night, we'll have an answer. We asked NYT reporters what to keep an eye on tonight, in the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. Longer versions of their answers: http://nyti.ms/1PUO35x
  1. Who gets attacked
    There are 2 candidates who are likely to come under the most fire: Ted Cruz and Trump. Seeing which of those two is the one that other candidates focus on could go a long way in telling us who they think is in the stronger position for the Iowa caucuses.
  2. How they address Hillary Clinton
    Trump won't not be the only target who isn't on the debate stage. All of the candidates will be auditioning to prove that they are best suited to take on Hillary Clinton. The last thing she needs four days before the caucuses is a stage full of Republicans criticizing her and drawing unfavorable contrasts.
  3. The Fox News moderators
    Trump or no Trump, the focus will be as much on the moderators as it will be on the candidates. With the accusations flung from the Trump campaign, viewers and candidates will be parsing the questions, hunting for glimmers of bias. With this in mind, expect Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace to be exceptionally prepared and direct in their questioning.
  4. Cruz without Trump?
    Can Ted Cruz outfox an invisible man? Look for him to make the evening a referendum on Trump's choice to skip the debate, making the case again and again that Trump has shown disrespect to the Iowans whose votes he is seeking.
  5. Can Ben Carson make an impression?
    With his candidacy hinging on a strong showing in Iowa, this could be Ben Carson's last chance to make his pitch to a large number of voters. The retired neurosurgeon has been studying tax policy, cybersecurity and foreign policy. Thursday night may be his final opportunity to put that knowledge on display.
  6. Without Trump, who attacks whom?
    If Trump’s presence sucked the air out of past debates, what will fill the vacuum this time? Look for Marco Rubio to go after Jeb Bush, Bush to take issue with Chris Christie, and John Kasich to criticize Rubio.
  7. Jeb Bush's response
    Jeb Bush is not known for his debating skills. But if he hopes to get a second look from voters (in Iowa but also New Hampshire), he could use a breakout moment. And if Trump boycotts the debate, it is unclear whether Bush will be as comfortable, or capable, of delivering a blow to his other rivals
  8. More time for John Kasich
    Kasich is counting on a strong showing in New Hampshire, where his poll numbers have risen. A Trumpless debate should give him more time to speak - but with a tight race in New Hampshire, rivals like Christie and Cruz may not allow him to go unchallenged.