WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 (UPI) — Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson stumbled when asked a question Thursday morning about the Syrian civil war, admitting to an interviewer he had never heard of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has been covered as the epicenter of the nation’s bloody, years-long conflict.
Johnson was speaking to MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel and was asked how a U.S. president should be handling the refugee crisis emanating from Aleppo as millions flee deadly bombings and a recent chlorine gas attack. Johnson asked panelist Mike Barnicle, “what is Aleppo?”
Barnicle responded with surprise, saying “you’re kidding.”
He then asked Johnson if he seriously did not know what it was and Johnson admitted he had never heard of it. Barnicle explained its significance and Johnson responded, “OK, got it,” then went on to call the Syrian civil war “a mess.”
The flub comes at a crucial time for Johnson, whose Libertarian ticket is hovering near 10 percent in some national polls. If Johnson is to be included in the presidential debates, which he has said are crucial to gaining the traction necessary to become a serious contender in the presidential race, he must improve to at least 15 percent in an average of five polls prior to the first debate on Sept. 26.
In a brief follow-up interview with Bloomberg News, Johnson acknowledged his foreign policy shortcoming would not be helpful to that goal.
“I’m incredibly frustrated with myself,” he said. “I have to get smarter and that’s just part of the process.”
Johnson’s question “what is Aleppo?” began trending on Twitter afterward and many users questioned whether his admitted use of marijuana, a substance he has called for legalizing, played a role in the incident.
Johnson has said he stopped using marijuana during the presidential campaign to be as mentally sharp as possible and has said he would not use it if elected president.
The Aleppo misfire was not the first time on the campaign trail Johnson was unable to recall a basic fact. In a New Yorker profile in July, it was revealed he asked an aide “who’s Harriet Tubman?” when he was entering a room on a college campus that was named after her. The aide reminded Johnson she was the pioneering member of the Underground Railroad and Johnson recalled her as the woman selected to appear on the U.S. $20 bill.