No, Gary Johnson, Your Aleppo Moment Isn't Cute

When asked Wednesday night by Chris Matthews to name his favorite foreign leader, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name anyone, saying he was having another “Aleppo moment,” referring to his gaffe on Morning Joe when he didn’t recognize the name of the besieged Syrian city. “Who’s your favorite foreign leader?” Matthews asked at an MSNBC town hall. “Name one foreign leader that you respect and look up to. Anybody.”

After several moments, during which time Matthews listed all of the continents, Johnson finally replied, “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment in the former president of Mexico.” Ultimately, his running mate, Bill Weld, proffered the name of former Mexican president Vicente Fox. Matthews followed up by asking Weld his favorite leader, to which the former Massachusetts governor quickly replied “Merkel,” referring to Germany’s chancellor.

While at first blush the moment just makes for bad politics (and cringeworthy television), pausing for a moment to consider the rhetorical implications of an “Aleppo moment” paints a much worse picture.

Following the original Aleppo gaffe, many observers were surprised to find that Johnson’s poll numbers went up, suggesting that the attention from the flub might have boosted the third-party candidate’s visibility. The invocation of one blunder in the midst of another suggests that, perhaps, Johnson thought his deer-in-the-headlights look might be a good thing.

But the really appalling part of the exchange was the idea of using the name of a city currently undergoing a humanitarian crisis to stand in for Gary Johnson having a brain fart. Aleppo has been a war zone for years, with hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire. This hasn’t been a momentary crisis or a passing disaster; this is now their lives, and it shows no meaningful sign of ameliorating anytime soon.

Johnson’s complete and utter failure twice now to be able to jump over the lowest foreign policy hurdles should do more than simply wholly disqualify him from the presidency (and, frankly, the four newspapers that have endorsed him need to seriously reconsider their positions). It should prompt Libertarians everywhere, who might have legitimate philosophical beef with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, to reevaluate their backing Johnson as an “act of conscience.” (Let us assume, for the moment, that Trump is not a viable alternative.)

Love it or hate it, America is the world’s leading superpower, which means that we need to have a president who is conversant in foreign matters (and, you know, who can readily name some of his fellow heads of government). For those who were hoping Johnson might prove himself as an acceptable third way between the two deeply unpopular major party candidates, I hope you aren’t too disappointed. But voting for a candidate like Johnson is more than just throwing your vote away. It’s irresponsible.