- Gary Johnson says he’s ‘incredibly frustrated’ with himself
- Has been campaigning to get included in first debate Sept. 26
Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson said he was “incredibly frustrated” with himself after failing to recognize the name of the Syrian city of Aleppo in a TV interview Thursday.
“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson asked on MSNBC when he was questioned on what he would do about the besieged Syrian city.
“You’re kidding,” commentator Mike Barnicle said. “No,” Johnson replied. “Aleppo is in Syria, it’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis,” Barnicle said.
“OK, got it,” Johnson said, going on to provide a general answer about the Syrian conflict, where he said the only viable option “is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically” resolve the conflict.
The exchange, which sent the phrase “What is Aleppo” to Twitter’s worldwide trends list, is a blow to a third-party candidate trying to capitalize on the unpopularity of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, has been campaigning for a spot on the stage at the first presidential debate on Sept. 26. To qualify, he would have to reach a 15-percent average in five national polls recognized by the presidential debate commission.
The Libertarian -- who advocates for legalizing marijuana, simplifying the tax code, imposing term limits on elected officials, and protecting civil liberties and privacy from government -- doesn’t appear on track to qualify for the first debate yet.
In the RealClearPolitics national poll average, Johnson has 9 percent support. Clinton leads with 41.2 percent, Trump follows with 39.1 percent, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein has 3.3 percent. The average includes the polls the debate commission will consider as well as some it won’t.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, said Wednesday on Twitter that he hoped voters would get to see Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, on the debate stages this fall. Romney, a leading Republican critic of Trump, stopped short of endorsing the Libertarian ticket.
“I’m incredibly frustrated with myself,” Johnson said in an interview off-set after the gaffe. He said he was “guilty” of not remembering Aleppo was a central city in the Syrian conflict.
“Sure it should,” he said when asked if the incident should be treated as significant. “Believe me, no one is taking this more seriously than me. I feel horrible.”
"I have to get smarter and that’s just part of the process,” he said.
In a written statement, Johnson said he understands the dynamics of the Syrian conflict, “but hit with ‘What about Aleppo?’, I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict. I blanked.”
“As Governor, there were many things I didn’t know off the top of my head. But 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,” he said in the statement.
The subject came up at a news conference Clinton held at an airport in White Plains, New York. Without mentioning Johnson, Clinton told reporters, “You can look on the map and find Aleppo.”