There’s a broken record spinning in newsrooms across the country. Talking heads from both sides of the political aisle continue to acknowledge the unprecedentedly high unfavorability ratings of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, repeating ad nauseam this notion that the American populace is fed up with the two-party system and the sub-mediocre candidates the Democrats and Republicans have nominated to represent them in the race for the White House. The media’s perpetuation of this overall dissatisfaction and disenchantment has thrust a crucial conversation into the political winds this election season: perhaps it’s time to pay serious attention to third parties.
The plurality-oriented winner-take-all system upholds the two-party structure in American elections. Fringe candidates running on third-party tickets are cast into oblivion by the understanding that it is nearly impossible for them to win in an election system geared against their very existence.
An article in Salon this summer addressed the fundamental flaws within this dynamic and called to attention America’s unrelenting acceptance of it; countless other articles have made parallel claims to question the two-party system that dominates the nation’s elections. The dissatisfaction with Trump and Clinton then projected this conversation unto the national stage, as voters sought an alternative to two highly unpopular candidates.
Gary Johnson was that option. A former Republican governor of New Mexico and successful businessman, Johnson had a strong appeal amongst disenchanted Americans. His Libertarian policy proposals to drastically reduce government spending on items like defense, prop up entrepreneurs with minimal government regulations, and promote civil liberties in a similar fashion to social Democrats resonated well. Some polls taken throughout the summer found the third-party candidate polling in the double-digits. His RealClearPolitics Average has floated around the 7% mark as of late. Surely, he must be doing something right – right?
Not quite. While the promise to cut taxes and reduce American intervention abroad sits well with many voters, Johnson has proven on numerous occasions that he is not fit to lead the country. Within the past three weeks alone, Johnson has had two major gaffes that demonstrate his lack of knowledge on foreign policy issues.
Anyone with access to a newspaper would know that the Syrian town of Aleppo has been at the heart of the nation’s gruesome civil war. Rebel forces and pro-Syrian combatants have conducted incessant air-raids on the town, killing innocent civilians and forcing thousands into exile. For context, over the past five days alone, more than 200 civilians lost their lives to the aerial onslaught. Several weeks ago, Western-backed rebel forces claimed to have seized the town from Assad’s authoritarian grasp, yet the regime denied such claims. Needless to say, Aleppo is a major point in foreign policy discussions pertaining to Middle Eastern conflict.
That’s why it was so alarming when Gary Johnson did not even know what it was. “What is Aleppo?” asked the candidate with a blank face in a live TV interview. As the show hosts sat appalled at this utter lack of knowledge on a major foreign policy and election issue, Johnson’s credibility fell through the floor. He later claimed that he had been thinking in terms of acronyms and was thus under the impression that Aleppo was some sort of acronym for a government program.
The public seemed to have gotten over this, given their short attention span that is particularly short in election seasons. Johnson then flopped again last night.
In an MSNBC town hall event with Chris Matthews, Johnson was asked to name a foreign leader that he respects. This was not a trick question. This was not meant to “get him.” It was a perfectly legitimate question for anyone running to, ya' know, run the United States of America. The candidate paused and looked flustered. His running mate then named a recently deceased Israeli leader. Matthews told Johnson that the leader needed to be alive. “Go ahead, you gotta do this. Anywhere. Any continent. Canada, Mexico, Europe, over there, Asia, South America, Africa. Name a foreign leader that you respect."
Johnson then said that he was having an “Aleppo moment,” referring to the gaffe made weeks ago. “The former president of Mexico,” he uttered. Vicente Fox has been an adamant critic against the Trump campaign, and surely Johnson was aiming to name him. But, he couldn’t.
Please allow this to set in for a moment. An individual running for President of the United States, a position that would allow him to access the nation’s nuclear codes, deploy the U.S. military for 60 days anywhere in the world without any legislative approval, appoint a Supreme Court Justice, and serve as the nation’s highest diplomat, could not name a single foreign leader.
Sure, it might impress your Facebook friends that you don’t support Clinton or Trump when you advocate for Gary. You might use epithets to describe the major party candidates and use soundbites to protest their candidacies outright. But, set aside political ‘hipsterism’ for a moment and consider the real ramifications of Johnson’s dearth of knowledge.
He might be an alternative, and that might be appealing to some. There is no excuse, however, for Johnson’s shear lack of preparation and palpable inability to serve from within the Oval Office.