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Libertarian Candidate Johnson Stumbles in Response to Syria Question

FILE - In this May 27, 2016 file photo, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks to supporters and delegates at the National Libertarian Party Convention in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
FILE - In this May 27, 2016 file photo, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks to supporters and delegates at the National Libertarian Party Convention in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson on Thursday revealed a lack of knowledge about the war in Syria when he asked, "What's Aleppo?"

Johnson, who reportedly had been making headway in gaining support from veterans, went on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show in a bid to get exposure for his campaign. Exposure he got, but not the kind he presumably wanted.

Interviewer Mike Barnicle asked, "What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?"

Johnson paused. "And what is Aleppo?"

Barnicle replied, "You're kidding."

Johnson may not have known what the topic was, but he seemed indignant that anyone would think he was kidding about it. "No," he said.

Barnicle began to explain that Aleppo was a city targeted by relentless Russian and Syrian bombing and the "epicenter of the refugee crisis" brought about by Syria's five-year old civil war.

"OK, got it," Johnson said.

He went on to repeat the Libertarian view that the U.S. intervenes too much in world conflicts. As for Syria, he said it was a "mess" and he recommended "joining hands with Russia to bring this civil war to an end."

"Morning Show" host Joe Scarborough then went after Johnson.

"You asked, 'What is Aleppo?' Do you think that foreign policy is so insignificant that somebody running for president of the United States shouldn't even know what Aleppo is, where Aleppo is, why Aleppo is so important?"

Johnson shot back, "I do understand Aleppo. 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."

Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, and running mate William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, reportedly had been gaining traction in the polls in their bid to gain the 15 percent needed to get Johnson a spot in the upcoming presidential debates.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump carry sizable leads over the third-party candidates, including Green Party candidate Jill Stein, in national polls of likely voters, but Johnson has reportedly polled well among military and veteran voters.

A recent poll by USA Today and Suffolk University of a four-way presidential ballot showed Clinton leading with 42 percent of the vote, followed by Trump with 35 percent, Johnson with 9 percent, and Stein with 4 percent. About 10 percent of respondents were undecided. The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Aug. 24 through Aug. 29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, tweeted Wednesday, "I hope voters get to see former GOP Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on the debate stages this fall."

The sentiment is shared broadly among the electorate, as the majority of likely voters want to see third-party candidates on the debate stage, even if they don't hit the 15 percent threshold to do so, according to David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston, who helped conduct the poll.

Johnson has reportedly received slightly higher support from U.S. military members -- 13 percent of almost 2,000 active-duty,Guard and reserve respondents in a Military Times survey conducted in July. And some veterans have reacted strongly to his exclusion in the upcoming IAVA forum.

-- Brendan McGarry contributed to this report.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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