The Republican presidential candidates debated was without Donald Trump Thursday, and everyone made it through just fine.

The absence of the bombastic billionaire made for a more substantive, albeit slightly tamer, event. And although Trump was gone, he was not forgotten.

Ahead of his veterans rally, held in parallel with the Fox News debate, Trump sat down for an interview with CNN. He denied suspicions that he was skipping the official event in attempt to avoid answering hard questions. When asked if that was the case, he replied, "Not at all." He insisted he has nothing to hide and emphasized, "I've done more interviews than anybody."

Whatever his motivations, Trump's absence made a notable difference in Thursday's seventh Republican presidential debate -- the last before Iowans caucus on Monday.

In case you sat this one out, here are five moments that stood out.

1. Trump's Absence Trips Ted Up

No one missed Trump more Thursday night than Ted Cruz -- or at least he should have. It turns out the Texas senator who is running second in the polls in Iowa and nationally does best as a foil to the Donald.

Cruz started strong when moderator Megyn Kelly asked him to address the "elephant not in the room" and channeled Trump with a joke. "I am a maniac. And everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly," he said. "Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way." 

It may have been his best moment of the night.

He fielded attacks from a number of his fellow contenders during the evening, at one point even complaining that questions were encouraging others to talk about him. "If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage," he threatened.

Moderator Chris Wallace pushed back against his complaints telling him, "This is a debate, sir."

Marco Rubio responded to Cruz's Trump-esque threat as well. "Don't worry, I'm not leaving the stage no matter what you ask me," he said.

2. Fox Pulls Out Video Evidence on Immigration

Trump isn't the only Republican candidate Fox News is playing hardball with -- it's getting tough on all the contenders. And on Thursday, it utilized a new tactic: video.

Moderators played videos of past interviews and statements from both Rubio and Cruz, featuring them taking contradictory stances to those they claim to have today on immigration.

They featured interviews with Florida Senator Rubio from 2009 and 2010 in which he said he would never support amnesty. Just a couple of years later, he was part of the Gang of Eight, proposing comprehensive immigration reform. His response: "I do not support blanket amnesty." He went on to outline his current plan on immigration.

Fox also cited an amendment proposed by Cruz for the Gang of Eight bill, which the Texas senator has on the campaign trail tried to sell as a "poison pill." Video shows him touting the amendment, not treating it as a bill-killer.

"The amendment is 38 words," he said Thursday, defending his past actions. "I introduced a series of amendments, each designed to fix problems in the bill."

Rand Paul shot back, explaining that he had been in the Senate when the bill was being debated and jumping at the opportunity to attack Cruz's character. "It's a falseness, and that's an authenticity problem," he said.

3. Jeb! Makes the Case for Jeb

This election season has been tough on Jeb Bush, and he has struggled to make a splash in debates. Thursday, he turned in, arguably, his best performance yet.

Moderators at times questioned the former Florida governor's decision to remain in the race despite poor poll numbers. "We're just starting," he said. "Why don't we let the process work?"

He also touched on the criticism that he is too closely tied to the Republican establishment "I guess I'm part of the establishment because Barbara Bush is my mom," he said, reminding viewers that the election isn't about pedigree. He also called his father the greatest man alive. 

He had a quip prepared on Trump as well. "I kind of miss Donald Trump, he was a little teddy bear to me," he said.

Perhaps Bush's strongest moments of the evening came on the issue of immigration. He espoused a welcoming, open attitude and stuck to his guns against a GOP whose rhetoric has been hyper anti-immigrant as of late.

"We should be a welcoming nation," he said, adding that America's identity is not based on race or ethnicity. "You can deal with the threat of terror and also recognize that in this country you can be aspirational across the board."

4. Rand Makes a Comeback

"Thanks for having me, it's great to be back," Kentucky Senator Paul said at the close of the debate. He clawed his way onto the primetime stage after skipping the last debate in protest of being relegated to the undercard event, and, on Thursday, he came ready for a fight.

The libertarian Paul discussed a wide range of issues throughout the evening, from the NSA to prison reform to Syria. In fact, the first part of the debate largely appeared a conversation between Rubio, Cruz and Paul.

Ben Carson, on the other hand, faded deeper into the background. At some moments, it was easy to forget he was there. At others, his words were indecipherable -- like when he described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "one-horse country...oil."

He also gave an awkward closing statement, reciting the preamble to the Constitution and closing with, "Folks, it's not too late, enough said."

5. Jim Gilmore Makes First Appearance in Iowa

No one puts Baby in a corner, or skips over Jim Gilmore. The former Virginia governor, who made only his second debate appearance this election cycle, made an ominous interjection in the undercard event. "Hey, did you miss me? Did you skip me?" he said.

He also attacked the moderators and the media for overlooking him on numerous occasions.

Thursday marked the former Virginia governor's second appearance on the debate stage, and he made his best efforts to make a splash in the undercard event.

Gilmore had a tough case to make, especially when debate moderators noted that Thursday was his first appearance in Iowa. "This is not the place where I'm choosing to begin my campaign," he said, explaining that he has instead chosen to focus on New Hampshire.

The only military veteran in the presidential race, he came armed with Trump-targeted attacks. He said he wouldn't be attending the billionaire's parallel event on "some sort of faux veterans issue," taking a swipe at Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both of whom were scheduled to attend.