September 8, 2016

Gary Johnson’s ‘What is Aleppo?’ gaffe goes viral

Screenshot of Gary Johnson on Morning Joe.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson received a lot of attention in the past two days for his longshot presidential bid as a Libertarian—but not all of the publicity was good publicity.

Yesterday, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted he would like to see Gary Johnson in the presidential debates alongside Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and current Republican candidate Donald Trump. He also said he would like to see Johnson’s running mate Bill Weld in the Vice Presidential debate alongside Clinton running mate Tim Kaine and Trump running mate Mike Pence.

Romney has not endorsed Trump and, indeed, is one of the most-outspoken Republican critics of Trump.

Still, Romney has yet to endorse Johnson, despite rumors a few months ago he was considering it. And after a gaffe by Johnson on Thursday morning, that endorsement may never come.

‘What is Aleppo?’

While Johnson received media attention for his campaign in the past, largely in news profiles of the “third option” and contrasting him with Clinton and Trump, he received massive attention after his Thursday morning appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Screenshot of Gary Johnson on Morning Joe.

Screenshot of Gary Johnson on Morning Joe.

There, Mike Barnicle asked Johnson, “What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?”

Johnson looked confused and eventually asked, “What is Aleppo?”

Barnicle responded, “Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.”

The confusion over Aleppo was perhaps the first viral moment of Johnson’s campaign. The New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, CNN, NBC News… name a news outlet and they probably covered it.

The misstep was a boon for explainers.

Vox, of course, jumped in.

So Aleppo isn’t just one site of tragedy among many in Syria. It’s a humanitarian crisis and one of the most important battlefronts in the country — the kind of thing that someone who wants to be president of the United States should at least have passing familiarity with.

The Times also explained, though mostly with links to previous reporting from the newspaper on the area of Syria.

Johnson did eventually answer what he would do about Syria.

“Well, with regard to Syria I do think that it’s a mess. I think the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically bring that to an end,” Johnson told Barnicle.

Johnson explains

After the viral morning show moment, Johnson’s team explained in a statement that he “blanked.”

“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human,” the candidate said. “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. I blanked. It happens, and it will happen again during the course of this campaign. Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes.”

Johnson also answered questions from Mark Halperin immediately after the taping and admitted it should be a “big flap,” as Halperin put it.

He explained with a recollection back to his run for governor, where he was confused when asked about colonias.

He said he didn’t know what they were but “I didn’t realize it was called colonias. Is this going to disqualify me from being governor of New Mexico? Well I hope not.”

The University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research describes colonias as, “rural communities in close proximity to the U.S-Mexico border, lacking access to basic services such as water, sewer, or housing.”

Halperin asked Johnson what he needed to do to make sure this sort of thing didn’t happen again.

“I have to get smarter,” Johnson said. “And that’s just part of the process.”