It occurred to me when I was watching the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night that so far on this blog I had only focused on the two major party nominees thus far (which is fair because after all they are the two candidates dominating the media and public attention). However last night Colbert chose to dedicate a good 7 minutes to third party candidate Gary Johnson, who is running on the Libertarian party ticket along with vice presidential pick Bill Weld:
Normally third party candidates (apart from some notable exceptions) typically garner a minute fraction of the media coverage, simply because they usually only register a minute fraction of the votes. But during this particular election cycle, Johnson has gotten quite a bit of press, and let’s just say it’s not exactly a good thing.
Before I discuss Johnson’s recent press snafoos, a quick background on Johnson. According to his campaign website, Johnson was the governor of New Mexico for two terms. He’s also a self-described “avid skier, adventurer, ironman, and bicyclist.” On the big issues, Johnson appears to have no groundbreaking stances except for one obvious exception which sets him apart from his opponents: federal legalization of marijuana as a way to combat the war on drugs. As the website details their position, “Johnson and Weld would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will allow individual states to make their own decisions about both recreational and medical marijuana — just as they have done for decades with alcohol.” As of right now, RealClear Politics has Johnson polling in at just 7.2 percent on average.
But back to Gary Johnson’s media appearances. He was in effect a nonexistent blip on the public conscience until Thursday September 8 when Johnson appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The interview was going fine until Mike Barnicle asked Johnson a seemingly innocuous and routine question: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?” Johnson asked him to repeat the name and Barnicle did.
“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson deadpanned.
“You’re kidding me,” Barnicle said incredulously.
But Johnson wasn’t joking. He required clarification that it was the “epicenter of the refugee crisis” in Syria before he could provide an answer:
This created an immediate buzz over the internet and television for Johnson’s shocking ignorance about a central issue in foreign policy. As is, this would have been a big enough gaffe to cost Johnson any possibility of securing the 15 percent voting threshold required to gain a spot on the debate stage. Yet unfortunately for the Libertarian party, Johnson’s blunders didn’t end there:
Ironically it was once again on MSNBC this past Wednesday where Johnson appeared flummoxed and tongue-tied when “Hardball” host Chris Matthews asked him to “name one foreign leader that you respect and look up to.” After gaping like a fish for a few moments, he hedged “the former president of Mexico,” but when pressed by Matthews couldn’t name a single one. Johnson admitted:
I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment in the former president of Mexico.”
Not the best way to come back, especially when the Aleppo incident happened just a few weeks ago. I would have to agree with Politico’s assessment of the interview as an “excruciating exchange.” At the very least to Johnson’s credit, he had the humility to admit he was “having an Aleppo moment” in his inability to call up any salient facts on foreign affairs. Does Johnson have a shot at making it to the October 9 debate stage? Probably not. Yet his candid, affable if not a bit bizarre nature (he has openly admitted that one of his biggest draws in this election is that he’s simply not Clinton or Trump) might be appealing to certain undecideds and obviously self-identified Libertarians. While Johnson has just clearly demonstrated what not to do during a presidential campaign, in this already complicated race essentially all candidates have done just that (from being embroiled in an FBI investigation to proposing a ban of all Muslims to the U.S.) so perhaps Johnson’s blunder wasn’t as fatal as it might seem.