Kelly started it off, referring to Trump as "the elephant not in the room tonight." (Elephant because Republicans, get it?)
"Donald Trump has chosen not to attend this evening's presidential debate. What message do you think that sends to the voters of Iowa?" she asked Cruz.
After a paragraph of boilerplate praise for Iowa as a hospitable state filled with diligent voters, Cruz piled on with a joke of his own.
"Let me say: I'm a maniac. And everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben," he said to Ben Carson, "you're a terrible surgeon."
"Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way," Cruz continued, "I want to thank everyone here for showing the men and women of Iowa the respect to show up and make the case to the people of this state and the people of the country why each of us believe we would make the best commander in chief."
By the standards of a presidential debate, it was high comedy. But it also confirmed yet again what a huge presence Trump is in the primary — even in his absence.