NEW YORK (TIP): If it was greater attention Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson wanted, he got it but probably not the kind he wanted.
As part of a media blitz in New York to try to raise his polling numbers enough to qualify for the upcoming presidential debate, Johnson fielded a range of questions Thursday, September 8 with the aim of demonstrating he can take on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But one very pressing question stumped him.
“What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?” Johnson was asked by Barnicle on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday, September 8 referring to Syria’s largest city, which has been engulfed by the country’s ongoing civil war.
Johnson said: “About…?”
“Aleppo,” Barnicle repeated.
“And,” Johnson asked, “what is Aleppo?” Barnicle, in seeming disbelief, said: “You’re kidding.”
“No,” Johnson said.
“Aleppo is in Syria,” Barnicle explained. “It’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.”
“OK, got it, got it,” Johnson interrupted.
“Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it’s a mess and that the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically bring that at an end.”
Later, Johnson was asked by Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin how he felt about the interview.
“I’m incredibly frustrated with myself,” he said.
When pressed whether Johnson felt it should be considered a “big flap,” the former New Mexico governor replied: “Well sure, it should. Absolutely.”
Following the interview, Johnson attempted some damage control, releasing a statement that said he “blanked” when asked about Aleppo.
“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human. Yes, I understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict — I talk about them every day. But hit with ‘What about Aleppo?’, I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict,” Johnson wrote. “I blanked. It happens, and it will happen again during the course of this campaign.”
“Can I name every city in Syria? No,” he continued. “Should I have identified Aleppo?Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes.”
Johnson went on to say that while he served as New Mexico’s governor, “there were many things I didn’t know off the top of my head.”
But, he said, “I succeeded by surrounding myself with the right people, getting to the bottom of important issues, and making principled decisions. It worked. That is what a President must do.”
Syria’s 2011 pro-democracy uprising, which gradually devolved into civil war, has sparked a refugee crisis across the Middle East and Europe as millions fled their homes for safety. When reminded by MSNBC on Thursday, Mr. Johnson said he’d work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the civil war and that the conflict was an example of the dangers of meddling in the region.
Mr. Johnson’s blunder has sparked widespread mockery, with #WhatisAleppo becoming a trending hashtag on Twitter, and Hillary Clinton chuckling at a press conference when asked about Johnson’s flub. “You can find Aleppo on a map,” she said.