This deserves its own thread, even with the debate now in the rearview mirror. Over at Politico, Michael Grunwald can’t believe Trump’s two most formidable rivals for the nomination just got nuked, in Iowa, on the biggest hot-button of ’em all, by Trump’s media arch-nemesis.

The star of the show was Kelly, the allegedly anti-Trump “lightweight” who devoted an entire segment to shredding Rubio and Cruz over immigration. She began by airing several video clips of Rubio promising to oppose “amnesty” when he ran for Senate in 2010, at one point arguing that “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.” She then pointed out that in the Senate, Rubio helped lead the push for a bill that included an earned path to citizenship.

“Haven’t you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?” Kelly asked…

Cruz once filed an amendment to Rubio’s bill that would have created a path to “legalization,” but he has argued that it was really a poison pill designed to kill reform. Last night, though, Kelly effectively quashed that argument, playing several clips of Cruz insisting that he did want reform to pass. “Was that all an act?” Kelly asked him. “It was pretty convincing!” After Cruz flailed around for a few minutes, arguing that it was unfair for Kelly to focus on 38 words in a 1000-page bill, Kelly turned to Rand Paul, yet another frequent target of Trump’s barbs. “Senator Paul, you know how Washington works,” she said. “Do you buy that?”…

To recap: Megyn Kelly, derided by Trump as a vapid Trump-basher, along with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, derided by Trump as pathetic losers, led the attacks on Trump’s leading competitors. And in the process, they helped remind Republican primary voters worried about immigration that Bush, Paul, Rubio and Cruz have all supported versions of “amnesty.” Of course, Trump was conveniently absent, so he didn’t have to field any tough questions about his own inconsistencies on immigration or other issues, from Kelly or anyone else.

The last line is the most amazing part. There is indeed plenty of material available for a Trump amnesty montage, from him scolding Romney in 2012 for being “mean-spirited” on immigration to allegedly telling a group of DREAMers in 2013 that they’d convinced him to once insisting there has to be a “path” of some sort for illegals to the stupid touchback amnesty he currently wants to do once he’s finished deporting everyone. (One of his choicer soundbites on immigration from the past is currently starring in a brutal ad being aired in Iowa by an anti-Trump Super PAC.) Given how they’d prepared for Rubio and Cruz, there’s every reason to think Kelly and Fox had also prepared a segment where they’d force Trump to eat his words on immigration too. And that might have hurt him: Rubio and Cruz have spent the past few months ventilating each other’s immigration liabilities but Trump has skated until recently, his reputation as the great populist avenger who’s finally going to crack down on illegals intact. Once he decided to skip the debate, though, Fox couldn’t air his immigration lowlight reel; it would have been unfair to accuse him of phoniness on an issue this important without him having a chance to respond. The choice for Kelly and Fox was whether to cashier the bloc of questions to Rubio and Cruz too or to interrogate them on immigration, even though it would give Trump an advantage. They chose the second option. How come?

Partly, I think, it’s just good journalistic practice. Trump not being there shouldn’t mean that Rubio and Cruz get a pass. They showed up boasting that, unlike “Donald Duck,” they were prepared to handle tough questions. Great. They got some. But I’m sure Kelly also relished the opportunity to hold their feet to the fire because it undercuts Trump’s endless dopey whining that she’s a “lightweight” who’s in the tank for other candidates. The last thing you’d expect from a moderator who’s supposedly biased against a candidate is her turning the screws on his two biggest competitors on a momentous issue four days before the vote — so that’s what Kelly did. One theory that was floating around yesterday was that Fox was all-in for Rubio because the Fox executive in charge of the debate has a daughter who works for him. Fast-forward to the debate and here’s Fox’s biggest star confronting Rubio with the same killer soundbite about an “earned path to citizenship” that I’ve cited in about a hundred posts criticizing Rubio’s immigration record. Tough questions must be asked of the other candidates, even if doing so benefits Trump, so Kelly asked. She won’t get a lick of respect for that from Trump’s fans, who need her as a scapegoat on Monday night in case things go sideways in Iowa, but professionalism is its own reward.

Two footnotes here. One: If you’re looking for evidence that Jeb’s “kill Rubio” strategy really is more about ruining Rubio’s chances than about passing him in New Hampshire, watch Bush’s response in the first clip. This isn’t the first time he’s attacked Rubio for “cutting and running” on amnesty in contrast to himself, a proud proponent of legalization. In a populist climate, count on Jeb to give the most establishment answer possible so long as it wounds Rubio in some way. Two: After you’re done watching the Cruz clip, go watch Kelly’s interview with him after the debate in which she admits that his record shows he didn’t support legalization in 2013. Er, the whole point of the video montage at the debate was to suggest to voters that he did support it. If the moderator herself thinks that a montage is misleading, why run it?