The day after nominees of the two main parties clashed over who will make a better commander-in-chief, Gary Johnson, a third nominee who was not invited to the match-up, grabbed national attention with a flub that critics said could end his insurgent campaign and earn him a place among greatest political stumbles.
“And what is Aleppo,” Johnson, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, said on a morning television show Thursday in response to a question about what he will do about the city if elected president.
Was he “kidding”? the host asked.
“No,” said Johnson, looking straight at the questioner.
The host explained: Aleppo is a Syrian city at the heart of the country’s burgeoning refugee crisis (resulting from the ongoing civil war)
“OK, got it,” the nominee said.
Some critics said the stumble could cost him dearly, end whatever chances he had. Others, taking a rather unkind view, said being a regular marijuana user he should not have stopped, which he has for the duration of the campaign.
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is a two-time presidential candidate, he ran in 2012 as well. Though he never stood much of a chance of winning as a member of a party that has never secured more than 1% of the vote in presidential elections, many Republicans were willing to consider him as an alternative to their own party’s nominee, Donald Trump.
“I hope voters get to see former GOP Governors Gary Johnson and (his running mate) Bill Weld on the debate stages this fall,” Mitt Romney, the Republican party nominee of 2012 and a leading member of the NeverTrump movement, said on twitter on Wednesday.
WATCH: Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson asks Mike Barnicle, "What is Aleppo?" https://t.co/BcG5hufHYf— MSNBC (@MSNBC) September 8, 2016
There is a very strong libertarian strain running through the Republican party, with former presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rand Paul, father and son, at the head of it. And as a former Republican himself, Johnson was a viable alternative to Trump.
He has been polling at around 10% — he needs 15% to qualify to be on the presidential debate stage — and was looking to boost his numbers, but can he recover from this?
The flub, which is trending on social media as just “What’s Aleppo”, may be headed for the pantheon of greatest campaign stumbles that include Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Dan Quayle spelling “potato” wrong in an interaction with schoolchildren in 1992; he put an “e” at the end. But that didn’t stop the Bush-Quayle ticket from winning.
George W Bush survived an even bigger share when running for president in 1999 wen he failed to name the heads of government of three of the four “hot spots” around the world India, Pakistan and Chechnya. He named the Taiwanese.
This was just a year after India and Pakistan had conducted a series of nuclear tests that had led to as many headlines in the US as Aleppo, if not more.