Gary Johnson Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot
Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson doesn't get much national press attention, and it doesn't help when he flubs an answer like he did this morning.
Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson made the worst kind of news for any candidate this morning when he absolutely flubbed an answer to a question about the refugee crisis in Syria:
Asked what he would do about the Syrian city of Aleppo, the region at the center of that nation’s civil war and refugee crisis, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson responded by asking, “what is Aleppo?”
“What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” panelist Mike Barnicle asked the former New Mexico governor during an in-studio interview Thursday morning.
“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson responded.
“you’re kidding,” a stunned Barnicle replied, to which Johnson answered that he was not.
Barnicle explained to the Libertarian candidate that Aleppo is “the epicenter of the refugee crisis” in Syria, giving Johnson enough information to finally 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 at an end but 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. 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.”
Co-host Joe Scarborough followed up with Johnson, asking him if he really thinks “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 replied. “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.”
Here’s the video, via Morning Joe’s Twitter feed:
.@mikebarnicle: What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo? @GovGaryJohnson: And what is Aleppo? https://t.co/ZbqO5RAEsk
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) September 8, 2016
Subsequent to his appearing on Morning Joe, which honestly didn’t last much longer than what’s described above, Johnson was interviewed by Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin, who was also appearing on the show this morning but was apparently off set at the time Johnson was interviewed. In an interview that was recorded on Halperin’s smartphone, Johnson acknowledged the fact that he had seriously flubbed a question that a Presidential candidate should be able to answer and said that he was “incredibly frustrated” with himself. No doubt he recognizes the fact that he made a serious mistake that could have a real impact on the future of his campaign, and most especially his effort to move up in the polls in the next two weeks in order to get to the 15% that would garner him an invitation to the Presidential debates that start in less than three weeks. Additionally, even though I’ve been supportive of Governor Johnson in the past, there really isn’t much of an excuse for an a mistake like this. Aleppo has been in the news for several years now thanks to the refugee crisis and is at the moment at the center of that refugee crisis. Tens of thousands of civilians have died there, and tens of thousands more have been displaced and forced to find shelter elsewhere from a civil war that is more than five years old now. Whether Johnson truly doesn’t know what Mike Barnicle meant when he asked about Aleppo, or whether he simply had a “brain freeze” that caused him to blurt you the most embarrassing answer possible to the question hardly matters. To be blunt about it, I’d expect any serious candidate for President of the United States to recognize what Aleppo is and what it means for the issues related to the threats that ISIS continues to make toward the United States and American citizens. Along with coverage of last night’s foreign policy forum on MSNBC, this story is likely to be in the news all day today and it’s precisely the wrong kind of press for a campaign that needs as much positive news coverage as it can get. It’s comparable to Rick Perry’s “oops” moment during the 2012 campaign, a minor flub but one that has the potential to define the campaign going forward. Perhaps there’s something the Johnson/Weld campaign can do to deal with this if this if they get on top of the issue quickly, but this is likely to be a defining moment for a candidate that most Americans don’t know much about, and he didn’t come across well at all.
Halperin posted his post-flub interview with Johnson on YouTube:
Johnson’s ignorance on Aleppo aside, when he recovered he did make some points on Syria that I think are largely correct. First of all, our current strategy in Syria of trying to defeat ISIS while at the same time pursuing the overthrow of the Assad regime by backing the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels has never made sense and is, in the end, contradictory. Just as happened when Saddam Hussein was overthrown in Iraq and Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, the sudden collapse of the Assad regime in Syria would most likely lead to the kind of chaos in that country upon which organizations such as ISIS thrive. Additionally, whether we like it or not, there’s not going to be a solution of any kind in Syria at this point without Russian involvement. Unfortunately, that part of Johnson’s response is going to be overshadowed by the beginning of his response.
Johnson wasn’t the only person to flub a question about Aleppo this morning. Appearing shortly after Johnson on the same show and responding directly to a question about what he thought of Johnson’s response, former Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill referred to Aleppo as “ISIS’s capital.” This, of course, isn’t the case. The capital of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate is Raqqah, but Hill isn’t running for President. Gary Johnson is, and this moment is going to get played over and over again.
All of this happened on what should have been a good morning for the Johnson/Weld campaign. Just yesterday afternoon, former Governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney said that he hoped that Johnson and his running mate former Massachusetts Governor William Weld would receive invitations to the upcoming Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates. As it stands, Johnson is averaging 9% in the national polls and the odds that he was going to get to the 15% threshold that the Commission on Presidential Debates has established in the next two weeks were something of a long shot. Romney’s comment, while not an endorsement, was exactly the kind of boost the Johnson/Weld campaign needed. Instead, his coverage today to the extent he gets any will be dominated by this flub, and Johnson has nobody but himself to blame for that.
Update: Amusingly, The New York Times seems confused about Aleppo too judging from these corrections to its report on the Johnson flub:
Update #2: The Johnson campaign has issued the following statement:
Must admit, a refreshingly human statement here from Gary Johnson: pic.twitter.com/aYnXVhfbhR
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) September 8, 2016
Correction: I have revised the language describing Aleppo as “the center of the battle between the Assad regime, ISIS, and the supposedly moderate rebel groups fighting to overthrow the Assad regime.” As D.J. McGuire correctly points out, ISIS has not been involved in the conflict in and around Aleppo.
If Trump did this it would be 4-D chess and he’d be the victim of the liberal media conspiracy, but nobody would notice after 2 hours when he said some other bat$hit crazy thing.
If Clinton made the mistake, everyone would be shocked because she’s such a wonk – but it would probably end up as some sort of faux scandal.
That said, Gary who? Most of America has no clue who he is, so this is the big introduction.
I watched that live and was thinking that he must have been speaking metaphorically, like “What is Aleppo in the grand scheme of things…”, but no, he literally did not know what Aleppo was. I was as stunned as Mike Barnacle. I realized I had just watched a presidential candidacy end, no matter how unlikely a candidate he was.
Fortunately for Johnson, most Americans don’t care much about foreign policy and are probably under the impression that Aleppo is a character in a Disney movie.
I am willing to bet that Republicans would run like hell from Johnson if they saw this interview with Samantha Bee. He’s a bit odd:
In any case, it’s foolish for those who reside in swing states to be casting protest votes when the polls are this tight. If you oppose Trump, then you have one choice, and her name is Hillary Clinton.
OK, I’ll say it: I didn’t know what Aleppo was, despite being aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. Maybe Gary and I are the only ones.
@Franklin: But you are familiar with this, though, right?
I think it’s possible that even some adults who follow the news might not remember the name of the city, but for a candidate to fumble this badly really is something.
I might have flubbed the question to. But it tells you something that the media is all over this gaffe but let Trump spew lies and BS for a half an hour last night without pause. Trump would have bombed this question too (no pun intended) but covered it up with bluster and lies.
Disappointed with Johnson. But way more disappointed with a media holding him to a higher standard than the man who is within a couple of points of the White House. This isn’t a joke anymore.
It would be bad for a candidate who is established enough to hold a major party nomination to not know this. I assume that Trump would stumble over this question too, although the interviewer would probably not get a shocked look on his face when Trump stumbled. The interviewers already treat him like the slower kid in class, just nodding and moving on when he says something stupid instead of challenging him.
This should be disqualifying for a candidate looking to establish the legitimacy of his campaign. He has a limited number of opportunities to gain traction and cannot afford to throw them away like this. He needs to show he knows more than the major party candidates.
Note: Johnson put up statement on FB acknowledging the error. You can imagine how Trump would have responded.
Gary Johnson must be cutting into Hilary votes for the Democratic long knifes coming out to swiftboat him over a Gotcha question.
Please tell me that you’re being facetious.
@Jen: Yes I was aware of that horrific picture and story. Absolutely did not remember it being in Aleppo.
BTW, here’s the NY Times and some other dude confusing Aleppo and Raqqa while trying to make fun of Johnson! http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/09/08/no_one_knows_what_aleppo_is.html
Like Pch101, I hope you are being facetious.
It wasn’t a gotcha question. It is perfectly legitimate to ask a candidate for president what he or she would do about the horrible, multifaceted situation going on in Aleppo. It is a humanitarian tragedy, and it’s getting worse every day.
Johnson fumbled, badly–but he is handling it exactly like he should. He apologized, and recognizes the scale of the flub. He has posted publicly a statement to which Hal_10000 has linked above.
Just when you thought it was safe to vote for Gary Johnson…
Yeah, the next time someone tries to tell me “the MSM is biased and in the tank for Hillary” I’m going to kick something. The MSM wants eyeballs and ad revenue and they’re letting Trump get away with murder because they think it promotes a “horse race.”
Yet I know people who think Lauer went easy on HER. The utter, total disconnect from objective reality is frightening.
Aleppo? Please, most Americans couldn’t locate Syria and Aleppo on a labeled map of the world, with Syria being the only labeled country, and Aleppo being the only labeled city in Syria.
But … I understand, Gary is running for president so he probably should be aware of the places and names the places that are prominently in the news today.
The right’s incessant whining about media bias encourages media outlets to go easy on the right in their efforts to avoid more accusations of bias.
It’s the wrong response. If a candidate makes a false statement, then it should be noted. If one candidate makes more false statements than the other, then the grilling will necessarily be unevenly distributed.
If right-wingers want to end the accusations of being lying, bigoted idiots, then the answer is simple: don’t lie, don’t be a bigot, be smarter. Take some personal responsibility for a change.
Re: Lauer, I am not totally convinced that the individual reporters are actively promoting Trump to help their ratings. I think that many are really conceited enough to believe that after all this time there is a Clinton confession just waiting there for the reporter who is smart enough to get it out of her, and they are that smart reporter.
There is also probably a little reluctance to admit that they have spent the last months/years chasing a story that really is mostly a Republican fabrication which has played them beautifully. I am sure they would feel much better about themselves if they could find evidence of a real smoking gun.
Count me among those who don’t care about the names — your ideology and views aren’t going to change whether the city is named Aleppo or Guseppi. People’s memory flakes out on stuff like that all the time.
The important question is does he understand the underlying problems and issues? Nothing about this suggests he doesn’t.
He’s not making a very good case for marijuana legalization.
“Real impact” as in changing his chances from zero to… zero?
The only real question is whether Hillary or Trump will benefit more from this.
Well at least he didn’t confuse it with Alpo, the dog food.
Though that might be what the Libertarian Party Presidential campaign is after today.
This is one of those moments where I have to step back and recognize that I am not the average consumer of news. I mean, of course I know where Aleppo is and what is happening there. I feel like its common knowledge. But obviously it is not. And I have to tell myself that that’s generally OK for a private citizen. For a candidate running for President? Its as disqualifying as not knowing what the nuclear triad is.
I do, however, respect Johnson’s response. That’s how real leaders should behave.
I know what Aleppo means.
I am a high school drop-out. I am not in politics, I write kidlit.
In what universe should a person seeking the presidency of the world’s sole superpower know less than me? Just how far are we going to lower the bar? Would you even for a second consider allowing surgery to be performed by a doctor who knew less about anatomy than I do?
This goes to the fundamental triviality of American voters. Johnson should not be president. Neither should Stein. And Trump shouldn’t be considered for any position of responsibility anywhere.
We have four people applying for a job. Three are completely, abjectly unqualified. There is one qualified applicant. Just one. This is not hard, not if you’re being serious about a serious job.
Uh Doug, if by chance Johnson was more mainstream he would have more and more flubs. If by chance he made the debates and there was a drinking game for each gaffe he had during the debate, you would not be able to write a column that night and probably not until the next night when you fully recovered from your hangover. How can anyone take a Libertarian seriously? Seriously?
It is absurd that the press is making so much of Johnson not knowing Aleppo, a city that at least 95% of Americans wouldn’t recognize either, but there are no headlines saying “Trump Doesn’t Know that There Are Military Courts,” which normal people do know.
All the headlines say that Lauer didn’t press Trump on his lies, but what about his stone cold ignorance? Not to mention his claim that the intelligence officials who briefed him don’t respect Obama, or his clear implication that Putin is a better leader than our president?
Yo, press! This is not about you. This needs to be about Donald Trump.
@Pch101: At least he isn’t blue
(If the Libertarians ever want to be taken seriously, they’re going to have to clamp down on the freakazoid candidates.)
The American press is incompetent. Lazy, over-paid, out-of-touch, ill-informed, educationally deficient and quite often downright stupid.
You want to see members of the media hold a politician accountable? Watch any BBC interviewer.
For-profit news is a failure. The BBC does a far better job, as does NPR, neither of which creates ‘news product’ to line the pockets of billionaires. Our quasi-religious adoration of the free market leaves us woefully under-served.
@elizajane: its simple. If you tell the truth about Donald you don’t get access to Donald. Ask the Washington Post. And access to Donald is guaranteed eyes on screens, period. It’s not about the truth, facts etc… its about cashing in, viewers, ratings
Gary Johnson doesn’t know what “Aleppo” is.
Jill Stein doesn’t know the difference between Cincinnati and Columbus
Hillary Clinton doesn’t know that emails marked with a “(C)” means Confidential.
Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about anything.
@grumpy realist: I’m so glad I clicked that link. Libertarians are hilarious.
@Jc: And WaPo’s coverage of Trump has been excellent, relatively speaking. One might be tempted to believe that a willingness to dig and ask tough questions at the expense of access yields better journalism. Not sure it’s done a thing for profits, ratings, etc., but still.
News product is to real news as cheese product is to real cheese.
@michael reynolds: There is one qualified applicant. Just one. This is not hard, not if you’re being serious about a serious job.
And yet, that one qualified applicant could conceivable lose because Democrats weren’t serious enough to accept that she’s hugely unpopular and pretty terrible at being a political candidate.
As opposed to the popular socialist, who was being quietly supported by Republicans in order to hurt HRC?
Bernie vs Trump would be interesting. But you could hardly argue it would be Easy Street.
If the point is that neither party was capable of fielding a visionary candidate who would inspire us, I agree. We seem to be short of Obamas or Reagans this cycle.
I’ve said this before, so forgive the repetition, but we have lost the national thread. There is no narrative, no plot. We are not aiming at anything. We don’t have a goal. What we have is malaise, disquiet and confusion. Virtually all of our problems are intractable – Syria, race, Iran, the economy, the rich-poor gap. . . In order to lead a president needs a people willing to be led. We are too fragmented and disunited to be led.
So under the circumstances, with one party in a state of collapse, and the other one all out of ideas, we are hiring a manager. We’re looking for a Tim Cook, who we know is not going to be Steve Jobs, but will at least manage competently.
“Bernie vs Trump would be interesting. But you could hardly argue it would be Easy Street.”
Actually, MBunge has.
@Joe: You’re saying that “real news” is aged. No, that *is* really what you’re saying.
Well, that’s the difference between cheese – which is aged, and “cheese food”, which isn’t. 😉
@michael reynolds: “short of Obamas and Reagans for this cycle”. But it could be longer. There are periods of our history when there was a dry spell, a dark age. The period after the Civil War until Teddy Roosevelt would seemingly qualify for that.
“Malaise, disquiet, confusion”: I see that too. Even during the Vietnam era there was the space program that provided some positive excitement and a challenge. What do we have now to excite and inspire us ? Has the technology hype and social media craze leveled off ? Reviews of the new iphone have been rather flat. Social media may be wearing off.
At one time our heroes were the country’s leaders and generals. Politics was considered an honorable field. Do we even have heroes now ? The Avengers ?
I don’t see this as a disqualifying event, because he regained his footing once the topic was clarified.
This may be because I am a bookish person, and more than once in my lifetime, I have discovered that the pronounciation of a word doesn’t match the way the word sounds in the real world. So I actually could see hearing the word Aleppo and not making the immediate connection in the moment.
@Gromitt Gunn: Agreed. And I totally “got” his initial explanation that he had processed this as an acronym–it sort of sounds like how you’d pronounce one, shorthand (LEPO, maybe?).
I don’t consider it a disqualifying event. If anything, I’m concerned he’s gained a level of attention that could suck votes away from Clinton–which has been my entire beef with third (and fourth) parties this time around. I just don’t think that Trump is the desired outcome.
Aleppo has barely the same population as Chicago. There was an eyalet/vilayet(Grossly speaking, a province) named Aleppo in the Ottoman Empire. It´s one of the most important cities of the Middle East.
If you watch the f* network evening newscasts you know what Aleppo is.They talk about Aleppo all the time.
Paraphrasing Trevor Noah, Johnson is running to be President, not to be the Mascot of the United States. He should know these things. That disqualifying, even for a protest vote. Sure, Trump probably does not know what Aleppo is, but that a very low bar.
There was a mutli-year period where I was under impression that “quinoa” was pronounced “kwi-NO-uh” because I had only ever seen it in writing. The first time someone started talking about “KEEN-wah”, I had no idea what they were talking about.
@Jen: If the news media gave Gary more coverage he would be at 20%+ , maybe at 30. It seems obvious they are going to try and keep that from happening: they do not want to take a chance on something derailing the coronation.
I actually don’t think less of him for that. The information here is he has always been aware of the obvious, that he isn’t going to be President, and has therefore not wasted time preparing to do that job.
That boy has what I like to call “a grip”. (Insert bong joke here)
@Stormy Dragon: ep-ee-TOME
Don’t look at the polls, go look at the prediction markets. States like Pennsylvania and Virginia are leaning strongly towards Clinton. Even states like Florida and Ohio are well into the high 60s in terms or percentage that Clinton will win them. And North Carolina becoming a swing state is bad news for Trump in that it means resources that could go to FL or Iowa will have to go to keeping NC in Trumps column.
@Tyrell: I disagree he’d get to 20-30%. With additional visibility comes additional scrutiny. There are enough conservatives who have a problem with Trump but who also would have issues with things like marijuana legalization, abortion, etc. that the libertarian platform would be a no-go. Liberals would take issue with the privatization of, well, everything. Because third parties appeal to niche groups, they will always take the role of spoilers in the U.S. system.
Well, this could get interesting.
@michael reynolds: If the point is that neither party was capable of fielding a visionary candidate who would inspire us, I agree
But why was that? On the GOP side, we saw a massive breakdown in established norms but one that was a direct outgrowth of long term dysfunction. I believe Chait wrote that he didn’t think Trump would win because he didn’t think Republican voters were that stupid. That’s the exact opposite of the truth. Chait couldn’t conceive of Trump winning because he thought Republican voters were such slackjawed yokels that they’d never rebel, no matter how much garbage they were forced to swallow.
On the Democratic side, though, it was a combination of identity politics and a perverse affection for a couple of politicians who, for most of their public careers, have been bad for liberalism and an absolute nightmare for the Democratic Party.
Bernie would have had trouble because, as we saw in the primaries, he’s fairly ordinary when it comes to the practical skills of being a candidate.
I do think it is unsurprisingly irrational for Hillary supporters to whine that the only reason she’s hugely unpopular is because of a quarter-century smear campaign against her, but then claim the exact same thing would happen with anyone else in just six months. It’s impossible to have a coherent discussion with people who literally reject the concepts of time and space.
“It’s impossible to have a coherent discussion with people who literally reject the concepts of time and space.”
It’s also impossible to have a coherent discussion with people who believe it is easy to elect a person who proudly proclaims himself to be something that a majority of Americans say they would not vote for.
You’ve reiterated this a couple of times–I don’t think anyone has said that it would be on the “exact same” level as Clinton. Clearly a protracted 25+ year campaign against her has a different effect.
However, the long-term damage done to Clinton has to be weighed against the short-term “surprise” damage that could have been done to another candidate. For example, had Bernie been nominated and a Republican super PAC decided to go all-in on making his fiction writing and rather questionable cancer/genital touching link theories an issue, particularly with Republican women/mothers, the “OMG I didn’t realize he wrote/believed THAT” could have had an out-sized effect on the overall campaign, because something that had lurked in the background would be brought to the forefront and exploited.
We simply don’t know, on balance, what the damage would have been. The only thing that is not in question is that no matter who the Democrats nominated, someone, somewhere, would have tried to exploit whatever weaknesses they could, probably in some very, very ugly ways.
It’s ugly and awful, but it is very much a part of modern politics. Pointing out that Clinton’s negative approval ratings are probably the result of a multi-decade trashing of her does not negate that another candidate could potentially have ended up just as trashed, but in a shorter time period.
Remember when W couldn’t name the leaders of Taiwan, India, Chechnya or Pakisan when asked by a NY Times reporter back in 2000?
Gore had a classic response as he knew something similar might happen to him so he preempted it by responding to W’s not knowing with this clever retort during a presser:
“…….But not knowing the names. . .I think that’s kind of understandable. I mean, the other day I was talking to Otkir Sultonov. You know, the prime minister of Uzbekistan. And he asked me, ‘Did you send a birthday card to Hamed?’ That’s of course Hamed Karoui, the prime minister of Tunisia. I had just been talking about him with Ion Sturza, the prime minister of Moldova. We’re old friends. We actually met through a mutual friend, Lennart Meri, the president of Estonia, of course.” May have been Gore’s finest hour!!!
Gary Johnson should take this very funny page out of Gore’s handbook and say, “Aleppo? for some reason I was wondering…lets see, Groucho, Harpo, Zippo, Chico, Gummo, Aleppo? whats the sixth Marx Brother got to do with foreign policy?…”
FYI, Marx Brothers a famous slapstick comedy team famous for Groucho’s one liners….lol
Well, Aleppo is important of course, but we could probably do without it. Piment d’Esplette is quite similar, and cayenne can be substituted if you adjust the quantity for the finer grind. For some purposes, even powdered chipotle is a reasonable substitute. Guajillo is even better, but it’s harder to find in powdered form…
Also, back in the 60s, many famous athletes e.g. Mickey Mantle would cry into the camera and mug “I want my Al-eppo” referring to a popular breakfast oatmeal cereal.