The Aleppo Moment

The talk about Hillary Clinton’s health episode has knocked Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and his interview gaffe off the front pages.  He must be grateful for that.

If you’ve seen the footage of Johnson’s interview last week on MSNBC, you know it was a painful moment.  Johnson is asked what he would do about Aleppo, and he stares blankly at the interviewer and then asks “And what is Aleppo?”  The interviewer says, “you’re kidding,” and then explains that Aleppo is in Syria.  Of course, for years Aleppo has been a focus of the ongoing fighting in that war-torn country.

aleppoThe footage is tough to watch, because you can almost see Johnson’s brain desperately spinning and trying to come up with an answer — but he can’t call up anything.  Johnson later explained that, at the moment, his mind was stuck on thinking that “Aleppo” was an acronym for something — he just couldn’t remember what.  After getting some air time on a national network, being asked questions that indicate he is being taken seriously as a viable candidate, and having a chance to reach voters who might actually consider voting for a third party in this unfortunate presidential contest, sheepishly asking “And what is Aleppo?” must have been as embarrassing as it gets for a politician.

It’s tough for the third party candidates in America.  It’s rare for them to be taken seriously, and rarer still for them to have any kind of impact on the race, because as Election Day nears and the reality of the polls sinks in, their supporters start wondering if they are wasting their votes.  For that reason, the margin of error for third party candidates is awfully small.  Whereas the major party candidates can survive a number of blunders — as Donald Trump’s amazingly resilient poll numbers indicate — when a bad gaffe like Gary Johnson’s Aleppo moment happens to a third-party candidate, it can be enough to quash their chances forever.

I’ve heard more people talking about the Libertarian candidate and the Green Party candidate this year than ever before, and some polls were showing Johnson was reaching the high single digits — putting him within striking distance of a showing sufficient to give him a podium at a presidential debate, which is the Holy Grail for third-party candidates.  Johnson says his “Aleppo day” might actually end up working in his favor, by increasing his name recognition and raising awareness of his candidacy.

Perhaps . . . but experience teaches it was more likely the death knell, and the moment when Johnson became the butt of a future Saturday Night Live skit.  As Johnson sat their under the TV lights, desperately struggling to think of what Aleppo was, he may have crossed the line into irrelevancy.

The Third-Party Deficit

I haven’t written about politics for a while because it’s just too depressing.  Now that the recent primary results make it increasingly look like we are in fact going to see an election in which Hillary Clinton leads the Democratic ticket and Donald Trump carries the Republican banner, I can only ask, where the hell are the viable third-party options?

deez-nutsWith choices like those that apparently are going to be provided by the two major parties, you’d think this might be the year when America starts to look more like Europe, and third parties could fill the awesome void that now looms before us.  Well, forget it.  There’s no sign that any one of those down-ballot parties that you see on your presidential ballot every fourth November — the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, etc. — has been taking advantage of the opportunity that 2016 presents by raising more money, drawing more supporters, or gaining media attention about their candidates, policies, or platforms.  Does anyone have any idea, for example, who might be the leading contenders for the Libertarian Party nomination, or even how or when the Green Party will pick its candidate?

(In case you’re curious, the Libertarian Party’s convention is next month in Florida, and you can see the names and pictures of the people “currently recognized by the Libertarian Party” as potential candidates here.  The Green Party, on the other hand, has recognized five candidates identified here and will hold its nominating convention in August in Houston, Texas.  I’m sure the press coverage of both conventions will be epic.)

Don’t hold your breath that one of the other “parties” might actually nominate a meaningful candidate who could attract enough support in the polls to participate in debates come fall or offer a plausible alternative to Clinton and Trump.  That leaves the issue of whether we might have a quixotic bid by some relatively well-known figure.  It’s happened in my adult lifetime, with Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, and I’ve even voted for a third-party candidate for President before, when I voted for John Anderson in 1980.  We may still see a rogue Republican who can’t stomach Trump or a Democrat who loathes Clinton’s Wall Street ties, of course, but right now the only buzz seems to be about an effort to draft a former Marine Corps general I’ve never heard of before.  And the problem is that, without an established party apparatus, it’s not very likely that a third-party candidate can even get the signatures necessary to appear on the presidential ballot in every state, much less mount a credible campaign.

So if, like many of us, you think the looming choice for President will present us with the worst choice in a lifetime, don’t just blame the Rs and the Ds — blame the little guys, too.  No one is offering us credible alternatives.