Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson gives acceptance speech during National Convention held at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Fla., May 29, 2016.
Photo by Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters

Johnson tries to sell the virtues of foreign-policy ignorance

Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson has been struggling with some self-inflicted wounds lately. The former Republican governor’s troubles began about a month ago when Johnson appeared on MSNBC and was asked to reflect on the crisis in the Syrian city of Aleppo. He replied, “What is Aleppo?”

Last week, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Johnson which foreign leaders he respects. Drawing a blank, the Libertarian candidate said, “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment.” When Matthews tried to help, naming specific countries and continents, Johnson still came up empty, saying he was having a “brain freeze.”

Andrea Mitchell Reports, 10/4/16, 12:30 PM ET

Johnson defends lack of foreign policy knowledge

Former Governor Gary Johnson, L - New Mexico, discusses his view that knowledge of foreign countries leads to a greater risk of getting involved in conflicts overseas.
Former Governor Gary Johnson, L - New Mexico, discusses his view that knowledge of foreign countries leads to a greater risk of getting involved in conflicts overseas.
Earlier today on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell reminded the White House hopeful that foreign policy is an important part of a president’s portfolio, As TPM noted, Johnson responded by defending the virtues of ignorance.
“You know what? The fact that somebody can dot the Is and cross the Ts on a foreign leader or a geographic location, that then allows them to put our military in harm’s way,” Johnson argued.

“We wonder why our men in service and women suffer from PTSD in the first place,” he continued. “We elect people who can dot the Is and cross the Ts on these names and geographic locations as opposed to the underlying philosophy, which is, let’s stop getting involved in these regime changes.”
It’s an argument that’s so astonishingly bad, I’m amazed an adult would repeat it out loud. Johnson’s pitch, in effect, is that the United States would benefit from having an ignorant president, because if the Commander in Chief doesn’t know where foreign countries are, he or she won’t be able to deploy U.S. troops anywhere.

By that reasoning, maps and globes should be barred from the White House complex – since it’s a surefire solution to ensure that our military is out of “harm’s way.” (Anyone with a Google Maps app on their phone should be denied access to the Oval Office, naturally.)

I’ll look forward to the Johnson/Weld administration’s employment announcements in early 2017: “Geography majors need not apply.”

On the surface, it’s unsettling to see the former New Mexico governor go to these lengths to tout ignorance as a plus. After his initial “Aleppo moment,” Johnson could’ve very easily recognized this as a policy blind-spot and made an effort to bring himself up to speed on an important issue area. Instead, the Libertarian has decided to embrace ignorance of “names and geographic locations” as a quality to be admired.

But just below the surface, as we discussed last week, Johnson is failing to take advantage of the opportunity that’s been handed to him.

There’s ample polling that suggests a sizable number of American voters are open to supporting a credible third-party candidate this year, and on paper, Johnson – a former governor who’s sought national office before – appears well positioned to appeal to those looking for an alternative to the major-party nominee.

This is especially true for Republican-friendly newspaper editorial boards that can’t endorse Hillary Clinton, but don’t want to support Donald Trump.

But in practice, Johnson can’t seem to get out of his own way. His campaign antics are often clownish and confusing; his campaign platform is radical in a way that alienates potential progressive allies; and when given the opportunity to make a good impression before national television audiences, the Libertarian has “Aleppo moments” that suggest Johnson himself isn’t taking his presidential candidacy seriously.