Former New Mexico Governor and current Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson shocked an MSNBC Morning Joe panel on Wednesday by failing to answer a question on his policies towards Syria. Rather than respond to fellow panelist Mike Barnicle’s request for his strategy to secure the city of Aleppo, Johnson asked, “What is Aleppo?”
Thinking he was joking, Barnicle, responded “You’re kidding?” Realizing Johnson was not kidding, Baricle tried to save Johnson’s lack of knowledge by explaining Aleppo was “the epicenter of the refugee crisis” in Syria. Armed with the knowledge that Baricle gave him, Johnson was finally able to answer the question.
“Okay, Got it. Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it’s a mess,” he said. “I think the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically bring that to an end.”
Russia is currently allied with dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. As recently as yesterday, human rights activists published evidence suggesting Assad dropped chlorine bombs over civilian residences in Aleppo, killing dozens, including women and children.
“When we’ve aligned ourselves with — when we have supported the opposition, the Free Syrian Army, the Free Syrian Army is also coupled with the Islamists, and then the fact that we’re also supporting the Kurds and this is, it’s just a mess,” Johnson continued. “And this is the result of regime change that we end up supporting and, inevitably, these regime changes have led to a less safe world.”
Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough mocked Johnson, expressing shock at the implication “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?”
“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, issues, we end up with a situation that in most cases is not better, and in many cases ends up being worse,” Johnson responded. “And we find ourselves always, politicians are up against the wall, and ask what to do about these things, and this is why we end up committing military force in areas that, like I say, at the end of the day have an unintended consequence of making things worse.”
In a follow-up interview with MSNBC host Mark Halperin, Johnson expressed his frustration and embarrassment. “I’m incredibly frustrated with myself,” Johnson explained. He went to point out that he needs to get “smarter” on certain issues.
On Wednesday, 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted that Johnson should be included in the upcoming Presidential debates. Romney has vocally opposed current Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Thursday morning following the Johnson interview, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan attributed Johnson’s lack of knowledge on Aleppo to his well-known isolationist stance on foreign policy: “Well, he is an isolationist, Hugh, let’s give him the credit of the doubt on that.” Hewitt went on to ask Ryan about the polling issue that Johnson is facing. Ryan followed up with “Oh, that’s a polling question. If he polls well enough, he should, but I don’t think he’s anywhere close to that polling threshold. What is the threshold? fifteen percent or something like that?”
As a third-party candidate loosely associated with the American right, Johnson has attempted to attract support to his campaign from Republicans who call themselves the “#NeverTrump” movement. He is currently polling nationwide at around eight percent, but would need to meet the threshold of fifteen percent support to be included in the debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates has set rules that a candidate must reach fifteen percent in five Presidential polls in order to be included on the debate stage next to Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In an effort to diminish the damage to his already struggling poll numbers, a spokesman for Johnson’s campaign called the gaffe this morning a “hiccup.”