Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s long-shot bid for the presidency probably got a bit longer Thursday morning when he badly flubbed one of his infrequent moments in the national media spotlight by appearing unaware of Aleppo, the Syrian city that has become an international symbol for that country’s refugee crisis.
Johnson was talking politics with the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when a conversation about the historical role of third-party candidates as spoilers was followed with one about foreign policy.
“What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?” the show’s Mike Barnicle asked.
“About?” Johnson replied.
“Aleppo,” Barnicle repeated.
“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson asked.
After an imperceptible pause, Barnicle replied: “You’re kidding.”
He was not.
Johnson did eventually offer an answer to the question, blaming an American policy of “regime change” for the Syrian crisis and indicating that he would partner with Russia to put an end to the crisis.
Host Joe Scarborough pressed Johnson on his whiff, making a pointed reference to the former New Mexico governor’s noninterventionist positions.
“Do you really think that foreign policy is so insignificant that somebody running for president of the United States shouldn’t even know what Aleppo is, where Aleppo is, why Aleppo is so important?” Scarborough asked.
“No,” Johnson replied, fumbling a bit. “I do understand Aleppo and I . . . understand the crisis that is going on. But when we involve ourselves militarily, when we involve ourselves in these humanitarian issues, we end up — we end up with a situation that in most cases is not better, and in many cases ends up being worse.”
Johnson spent much of the rest of the day doing damage control. He told the Daily Beast that he was “thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict.” In an interview with Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin, he said that he felt “horrible” about the question. “I have to get smarter, and that’s just part of the process,” he added.
So far, Johnson’s time in the media spotlight has been limited. On Thursday, his struggling campaign probably thought that he got more attention than he needed.