Let’s just get this out of the way: on Sept. 8th, during an interview with MSNBC, presidential nominee Gary Johnson did ask, “What is Aleppo?” That much is incontestable, his inadequate display of foreign policy acumen. Without exception, every candidate should know about the horrid conditions in Aleppo, Syria. However, contrary to the onslaught of criticism, this gaff doesn’t indicate the end of Johnson’s campaign — nor should it. Johnson’s room for improvement, along with his presidential demeanor and ability to gather political support, should be appreciated. Despite a virtual tidal wave of commentators prematurely dismissing the Johnson campaign, it’s important to recognize his viability for the presidency.
Since the interview with MSNBC, Johnson has seemingly defied the odds; his numbers are relatively untouched, and for the first time in 20 years, he’s now on the ballot in every state. Should this really come as a surprise? The current presidential cycle can be described in two words: utter chaos. The two major party candidates, each less viewed favorably than George W. Bush, have somehow withstood the nomination process. Each day, a litany of cruel references towards minority groups are shouted by Donald Trump, while many believe Hillary Clinton cannot speak the truth about anything. Instances of bigotry, sexism and immature campaign subtweeting all describe the most confusing presidential cycle in modern history.
And yet, the end of Johnson’s campaign is because he briefly forgot about Aleppo, Syria?
Over the course of his campaign, Johnson has made various mistakes. Following a speech at Politicon in late June, he was reportedly heard asking who Harriett Tubman was, only to recall the famous figure after a few minutes. For critics, this is the easiest side of Johnson to condemn. His imperfections are easily turned into snide articles and demeaning videos, which receive millions of views. The traditional American candidate would never make these mistakes, should they hope to receive votes in the fall.
This presidential cycle, however, is far from normal. From the moment that Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy to the moment that Trump accepted his nomination, the Republican party has been in turmoil. A day without Trump or Clinton causing political conflict is a remarkable one. Thus, when Johnson makes a mistake on television, it’s surprising that anyone responds viciously to an obvious display of human error.
At Johnson’s rallies, it’s typical for the candidate to apologize, usually with regard to past decisions that put him on the wrong side of history. This is evident when he speaks about the Black Lives Matter movement, of which his is now a supporter, after years of denying societal issues. These departures reveal that Johnson isn’t inept; rather, he is a person who is continuously growing and evolving. There has yet to be an instance where he truly seemed incapable of learning, and his ability to apologize for making mistakes is refreshing.
Beyond this, Johnson displays a demeanor characteristic of a president, especially compared to his rivals. During a recent convention, Johnson dismissed the Clinton health concerns as a topic of discussion, choosing to highlight the importance of discussing political issues instead. He has yet to assert that Muslims should be banned from the United States, or been caught handling classified information incorrectly. When compared to either Trump or Clinton, Johnson is in peak physical shape, which points to a capability to handle the stressful position for which he’s applying. When he’s on stage, he fields questions calmly, and chides at the irresponsibility of disruptive Trump supporters. By all accounts, Johnson acts the most like a presidential candidate since, well, the last presidential cycle.
Indeed, writing Johnson off due to an interview mistake is factually incorrect, as he recently became the first independent candidate in over twenty years to appear on the ballot in each state. The effort to include the libertarian candidate in the national debates is gaining momentum too, as former governors Mitch Daniels and Mitt Romney have both suggested Johnson should appear on stage. Nationally, Johnson is trending at 11 percent support among voters, which lends his campaign significant credibility. With funding far below the major party candidates, Johnson is effectively garnering the support of disenfranchised citizens, a factor that should outweigh a simple lapse in memory.
While it’d be wrong to argue that it’s excusable for a candidate to not know about Aleppo, it would be similarly misguided to assume that Johnson has no business in the oval office. His history as governor of New Mexico gives him knowledge of the political process, while his libertarian message promises a radical hope for change. Although Johnson has at times been unpolished, he has done so in a manner that didn’t target minorities, or raise questions about his honesty. Johnson is still a viable option for the presidency, one that should certainly be considered this coming election day.