Rather than asking, “What would you do about the refugee crisis in Syria?” the out of context question seemed to be stated in a way that would possibly confuse Johnson. It did. “What is Aleppo?” was Johnson’s response.
Once it was mansplained to him that Aleppo is a city in Syria where the refugee crisis is the greatest, Johnson realized the cryptic question was actually about Syria and responded: “Okay. Got it. Well, with regard to Syria…” and he went on to offer what seemed to be a very informed answer and analysis. His emphasis on the word Syria in his response seemed to be his way of saying, “Okay. I know you were trying to throw me off and this is really a question about the crisis in Syria, not about a specific city in Syria and what I would do about that city.”
When talking about the crisis in Iraq, one would not ask “What would you do about Baghdad?” but “What would you do a bout the crisis in Iraq?”
One would hope that someone running for president would know the name, spelling, location, and significance of all world cities of 4 million or more inhabitants, especially those having prominence in recent news. So, it was a gaffe on the part of Johnson to not have Aleppo in his vocabulary.
Rather than reporting on Gary Johnson’s actual policy position and analysis regarding Syria, the “What is Aleppo?” soundbite was repeatedly used to convince the public that Johnson was uninformed and not qualified to be a presidential candidate. By September 2016, Johnson was becoming a formidable potential spoiler who some believed might cause Hillary to lose to Trump, and for this reason, there was a concerted effort to marginalize him and keep him out of the debates.
Below is the original interview, and some of the subsequent fallout from this and other embarrassing moments. Favored candidates usually don’t have their gaffes replayed repeatedly. Those who are unfavored will have a difficult time getting traction. The combination of mainstream media’s news spin and then the late night talkshow jokes can be difficult to survive.