VIDEO: The Most Cringe-Worthy Town Hall Debate Moments…of All Time

Town hall debates: Where your favorite presidential candidate either keeps a straight face through all of the wackiness…or succumbs.

Presidential debates are nerve-wracking enough when they take place in a moderator-controlled bubble. The town hall debate is a whole different animal. Here, candidates must contend with angry constituents, overenthusiastic kids, and questions that sound like they were composed after chugging three bottles of NyQuil. In honor of tonight’s town hall debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, here are some of the most cringe-worthy presidential town hall moments…ever.

the symbolic children

Setting: 1992, town hall debate among Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot

Town-Haller (start time: 19:57): The focus of my work is domestic mediator, meeting the needs of the children that I work with by ways of their parents, and not the wants of their parents. I ask the three of you how can we as symbolically the children of the future president expect the two of you, the three of you, to meet our needs. The needs in housing, in crime, you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors…can we focus on the issues and not the personalities and the mud?

Bill Clinton: I agree with him!

“Obama is an Arab”

Setting: 2008, John McCain town hall meeting in Minnesota

Town-Haller (00:00): He’s not—he’s not—He’s a, he’s an Arab.

John McCain: No ma’am. He’s a decent family man citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.

Feelings and touching

Setting: 1992, town hall debate among Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot

Town-Haller (0:28): On a personal basis how has [the national debt] affected you.

George H.W. Bush: I’m sure it has, I love my grandchildren…

Town-Haller: How?

Town-Haller (1:05): …[Clarifying question] I have personal problems with national debt. But how has it affected you? If you have no experience in it, how can you help us, if you don’t know what we’re feeling?

George H.W. Bush: Well, listen, you ought to be in the White House for a day and hear what I hear, and see what I see, and read the mail I read, and touch the people that I touch from time to time.

 “Blackness came upon all the children”

Setting: April 2012, a town hall debate in Wisconsin with Mitt Romney

Town-Haller (00:00): Your Mormon faith might not be a concern in the election, but I think it might be as well, as I found these verses in the Mormon book, Moses 7:8 says…

Mitt Romney: Why don’t you give me a question?

Town-Haller: In the Mormon book it says [a] blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised.

Mitt Romney: I’m sorry, we’re just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view, but if you have a question, I’ll be happy to answer your question.

Town-Haller: My question is do you believe it’s a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black woman?

Mitt Romney: No. Next question.


The enthusiastic mcdonald’s employee

Setting: Obama town hall in Ft. Myers, Florida


President Obama: …Young people like Julio who have that much enthusiasm and that much energy, we’ve got to make sure we are giving them a pathway so that they can educate themselves and go as far as their dreams take them.

George W. bush makes no mistakes

Setting: 2004, town hall debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry in St. Louis, Missouri [And keep watching for bonus awkward debate moment with Al Gore]

Town-Haller (00:23) Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision and what you did to correct it.

George W. Bush: I have made a lot of decisions, and some of them little, like appointments to boards you never heard of, and some of them big…they’re trying to say, “Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?” And the answer is, “Absolutely not.”


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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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