Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date draws un­timely blank

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Me­lanie Mason Los Angeles Times’ David Lauter in Washington contributed.

Lib­er­tar­ian nom­i­nee Gary John­son has doggedly sought the spot­light in his long-shot pres­i­den­tial bid, but on Thurs­day he got an un­wel­come jolt of no­to­ri­ety when he blanked on the name of Aleppo, the city at the heart of the pro­tracted war in Syria.

The gaffe, which was i nstantly and widely mocked, threat­ened to taint John­son’s rep­u­ta­tion among most vot­ers and un­der­mine his ef­fort to es­tab­lish him­self as a vi­able op­tion to the two ma­jor par­ties’ his­tor­i­cally un­pop­u­lar nom­i­nees.

“The ques­tion is, does this be­come the one thing that peo­ple know about him?” said David Boaz, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Cato In­sti­tute, a lib­er­tar­ian think tank.

The episode also ex­posed the lim­i­ta­tions of John­son’s quirky per­sona as he tries to woo vot­ers from Don­ald Trump, the GOP nom­i­nee, or Demo­cratic con­tender Hil­lary Clin­ton. And it came at a par­tic­u­larly cru­cial time as John­son seeks a spot in the three pres­i­den­tial de­bates.

The for­mer Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico was asked on MSNBCwhat, as pres­i­dent, he would do about Aleppo, which has borne some of the brunt of Syria’s five-year-old civil war.

“What is Aleppo?” John­son asked, prompt­ing his in­ter­viewer to ask if he was kid­ding.

When told of the city’s sig­nif­i­cance in the Syr­ian con­flict, he tried again to an­swer the ques­tion, ad­vo­cat­ing for the U.S. to work with Rus­sia to find a diplo­matic so­lu­tion. He also made a broader point against for­eign en­tan­gle­ments, re­flect­ing the non- For­mer New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son says he “blanked” Thurs­day when asked about the Syr­ian city of Aleppo. in­ter­ven­tion­ist phi­los­o­phy that is a key tenet of lib­er­tar­i­an­ism.

“I do un­der­stand Aleppo,” he said. “And I un­der­stand the cri­sis that is go­ing on. But when we in­volve our­selves mil­i­tar­ily, when we in­volve our­selves in these hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues, we end up with a sit­u­a­tion that in most cases is not bet­ter and in many cases ends up be­ing worse.”

Later, in a state­ment, John­son said the blun­der re­solved “any doubt that I’m hu­man.”

“Yes, I un­der­stand the dy­nam­ics of the Syr­ian con­flict — I talk about them ev­ery day,” John­son con­tin­ued. “But hit with ‘What about Aleppo?’ I im­me­di­ately was think­ing about an acro­nym, not the Syr­ian con­flict. I blanked. It hap­pens, and it will hap­pen again dur­ing the course of this cam­paign.”

Sup­port­ers found an up­side: a surge in at­ten­tion for the can­di­date. “This can only help John­son in the long run with dra­mat­i­cally in­creased name recog­ni­tion, which is what he has needed,” said Kerry Welsh, an en­tre­pre­neur who has hosted fundrais­ers for John­son.

But Dan Sch­nur, di­rec­tor of the Jesse M. Un­ruh In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, said he doubted the episode had a sil­ver lin­ing.

“If he had made a con­tro­ver­sial com­ment that of­fended some peo­ple but mo­ti­vated oth­ers, then that’s the type of story that can help in the polls,” Sch­nur said “This isn’t a point of con­tro­versy. It sim­ply dis­plays an ex­traor­di­nary lack of knowl­edge on his part. It might not cost him a lot of votes, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine it will gain him any.”

The Lib­er­tar­ian ticket has con­sis­tently av­er­aged around 9 per­cent in polls — short of the 15 per­cent thresh­old for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the tele­vised pres­i­den­tial de­bates this fall.

John­son’s up­start can­di­dacy had gar­nered some promis­ing signs of sup­port in re­cent days. The Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch, the cap­i­tal city news­pa­per of the key swing state of Vir­ginia, has en­dorsed John­son and his run­ning mate, for­mer Mas­sachusetts Repub­li­can Gov. Bill Weld.

SCOTT MOR­GAN/AP

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