Gary Johnson: 'And What Is Aleppo?'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Gary Johnson, making his debut here two days after Jill Stein. Welcome!

The gaffe: On Morning Joe on Thursday, Mike Barnicle asked the Libertarian nominee what he’d do about the Syrian city of Aleppo if nominated. His answer was pretty atrocious:

“And what is Aleppo?” Once informed that it was a city in Syria, he offered a somewhat meandering canned answer on Syria, though he didn’t really say what he’d do there.

The defense: Johnson says he’s “incredibly frustrated with himself,” and basically acknowledged he didn’t know the city. To his credit, when Mark Halperin asked if it should “be a big flap,” Johnson replied, “Well, sure it should!”

Why it matters (or doesn’t): Johnson and the Libertarian Party have a golden chance this year—Donald Trump is widely reviled by many conservatives, and he’s especially weak on foreign policy, where he’s shown next to no real knowledge. But Johnson keeps squandering opportunities to show disaffected Republicans and conservatives he’s a good alternative—on DACA, on religious freedom, and now on Syria. There’s a reason Johnson seems to have hit a ceiling at less than 10 percent in the polls—well short of the 15 percent he needs to qualify for the presidential debates.

The lesson: A presidential hopeful shouldn’t have to Raqqa his brain or have a Road to Damascus moment to remember the biggest city in Syria.