There was no Donald Trump.
But there were plenty of claims worth fact-checking at Thursday's GOP presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ted Cruz, the Texas senator leading in several Iowa polls, opened the debate by talking about his prime competitor — Trump.
“The divide between you and Mr. Trump has turned into one of the biggest stories in the country,” said Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly. “And for six months that — your campaign, during this campaign, you praised Mr. Trump as somebody who you thought was an effective voice against the Washington cartel. You said you were glad that he was running as a Republican.
“But when he started to criticize you, your message changed, and you suddenly started to portray him as the voice of the Washington cartel, and suggested he would do the Democrats’ bidding. Which is it?” Kelly asked.
Here's how Cruz answered:
“Well, 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.”
A good line. But not entirely accurate. We rated the statement Mostly False.
Determining what qualifies as an “insult” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but Cruz has certainly mocked Trump during several recent public appearances, calling him “fragile,” and saying Fox News' questions might make his hair “"stand on end.”
He even made light of Trump’s habit of insulting his fellow candidates during Thursday's debate: “Let me say I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben [Carson], you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way. ...”
Trump on his boycott
Trump said it's not true that he boycotted the debate because of his ongoing war with Kelly.
“Well, I’m not a person that respects Megyn Kelly very much. I think she’s highly overrated. Other than that, I don’t care,” he told CNN an hour before the debate. “I never once asked that she be removed. I don’t care about her being removed. What I didn’t like was that public relations statement where they were sort of taunting. I didn’t think it was appropriate. I didn’t think it was nice.”
Actually, Trump mused about skipping the debate because of Kelly for a couple days before that news release. He went so far as to say Kelly “should not be allowed” to moderate, that she “should recuse herself,” and she “shouldn’t be in the debate.”
His claim rates False.
Christie on San Bernardino
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie puzzled Kelly later during the debate when he claimed that neighbors of the San Bernardino, California, shooters “knew that they were talking about trying to take our country and attack it.”
That's because Christie's line is False.
The most that was reported is that a neighbor of a neighbor of one of the shooter’s mothers said there was suspicious activity. There was no mention that a neighbor of the shooters themselves was suspicious, much less that a neighbor thought an attack was being planned.
Cruz on military cuts
During a discussion on the military, Cruz attacked President Barack Obama for cuts in military spending.
“Barack Obama right now, No. 1, over seven years, has dramatically degraded our military. You know, just two weeks ago was the 25th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf war,” the Texas senator said. “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.”
Cruz is correct that military spending has decreased. But he's wrong to put the blame solely on the shoulders of Obama.
The fact is the cuts were the result of sequestration, a budget-cutting gimmick that kicked in when Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a spending bill. If there's blame to go around, it goes to both political parties.
Cruz's claim rated Mostly False.
Paul on civil fines and Ferguson
Asked about the relationship between the public and police in Ferguson, Missouri, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky deplored the amount of civil fines being assessed there:
“I've been trying to look for solutions to our criminal justice problem. One thing I discovered in Ferguson was that a third of the budget for the city of Ferguson was being reaped by civil fines. People were just being fined to death.”
The evidence is clear that the city was heavily dependent on fines and fees for its revenue. But we found that Paul seriously overstated that reliance. It went as high as 16 percent in 2014, which is far short of a third. In response to public outrage, it was expected to drop to 7 percent the following year.
Paul's statement rates Mostly False.
Rubio on amnesty and a path to citizenship
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida had to explain video that seemed to show him taking different positions on legal status for illegal immigrants, often described as amnesty.
Kelly played a series of clips then asked Rubio, “Within two years of getting elected, you were co-sponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship, in your words, amnesty. Haven't you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?”
Rubio countered: “No, because if you look at the quote, and it's very specific. And, it says blanket amnesty, I do not support blanket amnesty. ...”
We found that Rubio opposed amnesty while running for Senate in 2010. In a CNN debate that year, he linked it to a path to citizenship, saying that an “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.” But in 2013, he was one of eight authors of a Senate bill that included a path to citizenship and declared that it was not amnesty. Rubio can argue that the bill — which died in the House — was not “blanket amnesty,” because it included significant hurdles including fines and a waiting period.
That’s a partial change of position, so we rated it a Half Flip.
Carson on 81,000 pages of government regulations
There are too many government rules stifling small businesses, said retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. “Last year, there were an additional 81,000 pages of government regulations,” he said. “If you stack that up, it would be a three-story building.”
The Federal Register published a little over 81,000 pages in 2015, and this many pages stacked on top of each other would reach about three stories high. However, many of these pages do not contain regulations. In recent years, only about 31 percent of Register pages contain final rules.
The statement has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.
PolitiFact staff writers Lauren Carroll, C. Eugene Emery Jr., Jon Greenberg, Louis Jacobson, Linda Qiu, Aaron Sharockman contributed to this article.
The statement: On opposing citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The ruling: Rubio opposed amnesty while running for Senate in 2010. He flatly said that he would oppose granting “blanket, legalization, amnesty” in an interview with a conservative blogger. In a CNN debate that year, he again opposed amnesty and linked it to a path to citizenship when he said that an “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty” and that it would be unfair to “create an alternative pathway for individuals who entered illegally and knowingly did so.” But in 2013, he was one of eight authors of a Senate bill that included a path to citizenship and declared that it was not amnesty. Rubio can argue that the bill —- which died in the House — was not “blanket amnesty,” because it included significant hurdles including fines and a waiting period..
We rate this claim: Half Flip.
Politifact Florida is a partnership between The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.