Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for president, had been raring for Wednesday night's “town hall” on MSNBC. He had been cut from the first televised debate after missing the polling threshold, and he had not been invited when the network hosted a “commander-in-chief forum” with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“This was their consolation prize,” Johnson told The Washington Post this week when asked about the MSNBC special. “It was put to us that, look, you weren’t in this initial program. Here’s what we’d like to offer in lieu of being with the two major-party candidates. And I said, 'An hour of prime time Chris Matthews? I'll take it.'”
But the hour didn't go as planned. Johnson, who had been pilloried for blanking on the relevance of the Syrian city of Aleppo in another MSNBC interview, whiffed his way through an even easier foreign policy question.
“Who's your favourite foreign leader?” Matthews asked.
“Who's my favourite?” Johnson replied.
“Anywhere in the continents,” Matthews said. “Any country. Name one foreign leader that you look up to.”
William Weld, Johnson's running mate, chimed in with an assist: “I'm with Shimon Peres.”
“I'm talking about living, okay?” Matthews said. “You gotta do this. Any continent. Canada, Mexico?”
“I guess I'm having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson said.
“In the whole world!” Matthews said. “Anybody in the world.”
“I know, I know,” Johnson said.
“Pick any leader,” Matthews said.
“The former president of Mexico,” Johnson said.
“Which one?” Matthews said.
“I'm having a brain freeze,” Johnson said.
Weld, who had left the governor's office in Massachusetts in an unsuccessful attempt to become ambassador to Mexico, began naming the country's former presidents. “Fox? Zedillo? Calderon?”
“Fox,” Johnson said with a combination of jubilation and relief. “He was terrific.”
Johnson's inability to remember the full name of Vicente Fox was a genuine surprise. Johnson governed New Mexico, which shares a small border with Mexico, from 1995 to 2003. Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, won Mexico's 2000 presidential election with an unusual amount of fanfare, as his centre-right National Action Party (PAN) broke generations of one-party rule by the centre-left Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
And in recent months, Fox had become a vigorous opponent of Donald Trump. He gave several interviews promising that Mexico would not “pay for that wall” if Trump won the presidency. He was filmed bashing a Trump-shaped piñata. He tweeted mockery at Trump when he managed to wind up on a Trump campaign fundraising email list.
Johnson had appeared to notice. Over the summer, as he rose in the polls, Johnson added Texas-based immigration reform advocate Juan Hernandez as an adviser on Latino issues. This past weekend, at the annual Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Hernandez organized interviews between Johnson and several Spanish-language TV stations. The Washington Post was in the room as Hernandez talked Johnson through a Mexican television spot, where he offered to meet with Mexico's President Enrico Peña Nieto to discuss immigration and trade. “As Vicente Fox says, 'Hoy, hoy, hoy!'” Johnson said.
And on Monday, minutes before the debate began, Johnson told a room full of journalists that he would have lit up the stage had he been permitted to share it. Arit John, a reporter for Bloomberg Politics, asked if the “Aleppo moment” had suggested he would fluster when the debate turned to policy. Pacing behind a desk, his yellow tie partly undone, Johnson said he was furious at American foreign policy and had had enough of gotcha questions.
US election 2016: the race for the White House in pictures
US election 2016: the race for the White House in pictures
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York
President Barack Obama embraces Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on stage at the party's convention in Philadelphia
Donald Trump's wife Melania delivered a speech at the GOP convention in Cleveland that was later found to have been cribbed in part from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention address
Hillary Clinton talks to reporters aboard her new campaign plane on Labour Day, 5 September, her first 'press conference' since 2015
Donald Trump held a joint press conference with Mexican leader Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City in August, hours before reiterating his harsh immigration plans at a campaign rally in Arizona
Bernie Sanders officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying his progressive vision for ‘a transformed America’ would be ’best served by the defeat of Donald Trump’
Khizr and Gazala Khan appeared at the DNC to slam Trump for his stance on Muslim immigration, citing the case of their son Humayun Khan, who was killed in combat while serving as a Captain in the US Army in Iraq
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is doing better in polls than any third party candidate since Ross Perot, 20 years ago
Green Party candidate Jill Stein (centre) marches with supporters in Colorado
Hillary Clinton and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine at a rally in Kaine's home state in July, days before Ms Clinton tapped him to be her running mate
Trump on the campaign trail with his vice presidential pick, Indiana governor Mike Pence
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage appears at a Trump rally in Mississippi in August, where he told the crowd that he 'wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton if you paid me'.
“Hillary Clinton crosses the eyes and crosses the Ts on all of the names and everything associated with this,” Johnson said. “But as a result of that, we have the foreign policy we have right now, which I have to tell you, I think is horrible. Horrible! And that's how I would answer it tonight. I would be mad. I would be angry. I would angry that they would be calling out names of geographic locations, names of foreign leaders, when the underlying policy has thousands of people dying.”
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