The Rules Of The First Presidential Debate Were A Total Mess, Making The Event That Much More Confusing

This combination of file photos shows the silhouettes of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump(R)July 18, 2016 and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on February 4, 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prepared to square off September 26, 2016 in their first presidential debate -- a keenly awaited clash that comes as they sit nearly neck and neck in the polls. The debate, which is expected to be watched by tens of millions of Americans, could draw a record number of viewers when it kicks off at 9:00 pm EST (0100 GMT Tuesday). / AFP / DESK (Photo credit should read DESK/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

In the days leading up to the debate, there has been one thing on the mind of the American people besides the breakup of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: the presidential debate. Millions of people watched as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton went podium to podium in their first of three debates. But now the stage is empty. The lights are dimmed. All the bingo cards and beers have been put away. And one of the major takeaways is the fact that the rules of the first debate were a mess

Clinton and Trump went into the debate in a dead heat in the national polls. While both candidates did their own versions of debate prep, it was clear going into the debates that both had a lot riding on the debates and would be judged in very different ways. Could Clinton come across as approachable and get past her email scandal? Would Trump be the composed, "presidential" Trump or the un-PC, straight-talker from his debates of old? It might not be the last chance for the candidates to plead their cases, but it was certainly a big chance. 

If you went into the debate with your mind already made up, you probably weren't swayed one way or the other. Let's face it, purely from a policy standpoint, an hour and a half is nothing when it comes to deciding who the next leader of the free world should be. While the candidates were able to touch on big issues like international relations, race relations, and the economy, they really were only able to do just that — touch on it. If the winners and losers of the debate are decided based on votes, we really won't know until the polls come out. 

But let's look outside the box for a true loser of this debate. A loser that doesn't rely on subjectivity. And there is an unequivocal loser. 

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The rules. The rules, the rules, the rules. In this case they were really more like guidelines. 

You see, the debate, contrary to how it looked on Monday night, was structured by a set of rules. They were supposed to cover three topics, each for two, 15-minute segments. The time codes were a bit flexible throughout the night with candidates going over their allotted two minutes, asking and receiving extra time to respond to the other candidate, and spending more time on some questions than others. 

The candidates also spent a lot of time interrupting each other and their moderator Lester Holt. Although the official debate format released by the Commission on Presidential Debates does not specifically say the candidates can't interrupt each other, they do set out a clear back and forth format. But according to Vox, Trump interrupted Clinton 25 times in the first 26 minutes. And Holt interrupted Trump to try and bring him back on track about jobs. As the debate went on, the interruptions continued. Foreign policy got especially dicy.

Trump: That would not start a war.

Clinton: That's bad judgment. That is not the right temperament to be commander in chief, to be taunted and the worst part --

Trump: They were taunting us --

Clinton: I heard Donald say has been about nuclear weapons. He has said repeatedly he didn't care if other countries got nuclear weapon, Japan, E Saudi Arabia. It has been the policy of the United States, Republicans and Democrats to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He even said if there were nuclear war in east Asia, that's fine, you know.

Trump: Wrong.

Clinton: Have a good time, folks.

Trump: That's lies.

Clinton: And in fact, his cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is so deeply troubling. That is the number one threat we face in the world, and it particularly threatening if terrorists get their hands on a nuclear weapon. So a man who can be as easily tweaked should not have his hands anywhere near the nuclear codes.

Trump: This argument is getting a little old.

Not even the audience followed the rules. At the beginning of the debate Holt said, "The audience here in the room has agreed to remain silence so that we can focus on what the candidates are saying." Well apparently that wasn't a mutual agreement. Notably, when Clinton said, "And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing," she received a round of applause and cheers from the crowd. At least four times, the audience erupted into cheers and applause for a candidate. At one point Holt stopped the debate to say, "Let me admonish the audience one more time. There was an agreement. We asked you to be silent." But even after that, the audience interrupted with applause again.  

The rules were so clearly, carefully, and firmly gone over before the candidates took the stage. But once things got going they magically changed into a loose framework. With the rules out the window, they became the clear loser. 

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