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Story highlights

Town hall debates literally have more space for awkward moments

Take a look bad at some of the most cringeworthy

Washington CNN —  

Anyone who thinks all presidential debates are boring has clearly never experienced the often cringeworthy format that is the town hall. The Greeks gave us democracy and theatre-in-the-round. The town hall debate combines the best of both and adds in a little rhetorical MMA for texture.

Sunday night’s debate between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton holds the promise of the town hall format’s greatest (at times worst) hits: aimless meandering, awkward bar stools that participants mostly have to lean on and, of course, face-to-face interaction with voters. Nothing makes presidential candidates seem more like actual humans than taking difficult questions from real people.

The 2008 town hall between then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain played host to two of the most awkward debate moments in recent memory. First came the moment when McCain referred to Obama as “that one,” which was viewed as disrespectful. That moment was only eclipsed at the end, when both nominees wandered between moderator Tom Brokaw and his teleprompter.

That wasn’t the only time the open floor plan of the town hall caused issues. In 2000, then-Vice President Al Gore seemed to try to intimidate George W. Bush by standing up and walking over to Bush while the governor was mid-sentence. Bush raised his eyebrows and nodded at Gore, prompting the audience to burst into laughter.

Bush’s town hall moment was better for him than the moment people remember from his father’s 1992 debate. Then-President George Bush was caught looking at his watch. During town hall debates, there is nowhere to hide for 90 minutes.

And who could forget the moment in 2012, when moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to tell Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he was mistaken. Romney claimed that Obama hadn’t referred to the attack on a US Consulate in Benghazi as “an act of terror” until weeks after the fact. He had. It would have been awkward if they were sitting behind a table, but Romney was in open water, all thanks to the town hall debate format.

Watch the 2016 town hall presidential debate Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN and catch up on the greatest hits (so far) in the video above.