For Gary Johnson’s eagerness to get under the hot lights of the debate stage and test his mettle against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (the Libertarian candidate went so far as to sue the Commission on Presidential Debates to be included), he has serious trouble answering basic, debate-style questions. Like: Name a foreign leader – any foreign leader – you respect.
That was the question posed to Johnson by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Wednesday. He struggled mightily, and ultimately failed, to produce even one name of a current – or former! – foreign leader he admired. (Johnson’s VP pick, Bill Weld, finally jumped in to offer a tepid endorsement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.)
Johnson self-deprecatingly called it an “Aleppo moment,” referring to his other embarrassing foreign-policy blunder this month, when he was forced to ask “What is Aleppo?” in response to a question on what he would do about the city at the center of the Syrian civil war.
Johnson’s support has ebbed since that initial “Aleppo moment.” The latest Real Clear Politics average shows the Libertarian nominee capturing 7.2 percent of the vote in a four-way matchup against Clinton, Trump and the Green Party’s Jill Stein – down from a high of 9.2 percent earlier this month.
We asked some of Johnson’s fiercest defenders – people who reached out to Rolling Stone in August, upset over a piece on why voters of almost any political persuasion could find a good reason not to support Johnson – how they were feeling about their candidate today.
Those who responded said they hadn’t changed their mind about supporting him.
“If anything, I like that he didn’t know what Aleppo was,” writes Matt K., in Pennsylvania. “[T]o be honest, I didn’t either and my concerns are more domestic.”
Meanwhile, Jeff L. from Florida writes, “The short answer is it has some negative impact, but [it’s] not a disqualifier …. What it tells you is he really needs time to think through his answers. It also says that maybe he hasn’t studied up.”
“There is plenty of time to learn who the world leaders are, if elected,” Jeff adds. “I believe he has the capacity to learn. I’m really looking for overall honesty of the candidate, thoughtfulness, intelligence, past decision making, how they would handle the two-party Washington issue. He is sound in those areas.”
Cameron K. from Connecticut was disappointed in Johnson. “I was a firm supporter of Governor Johnson’s before the Aleppo incident, but his inability to know where Aleppo was and to be so jokey about it really tempered my enthusiasm for him. This latest incident is also something that worries me as I hope it doesn’t mean that Governor Johnson just has a total lack of knowledge of world leaders.”
But after watching Monday’s debate, Cameron still views Johnson as the lesser of three evils. “Johnson does not have a basic understanding of foreign policy, Trump is divisive, nonsensical, and often bigoted, and Clinton is a symbol of how out of touch and corrupt our current political class is.”
Paul A. from Louisiana writes, “It wouldn’t necessarily sway me, though he could have handled it better.”
“Maybe there are no leaders to admire. In hindsight, he probably should have said just that,” he says.
The Johnson campaign, for its part, is calling the coverage surrounding Johnson’s latest stumble “gotcha-ism at its finest.” Campaign manager Ron Neilson defended the Libertarian candidate’s performance on Facebook, saying, “Yes, asked to name a favorite foreign leader, Gov. Johnson didn’t quickly name a specific favorite. That really doesn’t mean much. Most Americans and certainly most political candidates would have to stop and think before responding, with the possible exception of a Donald Trump who is enthralled by Putin.”