Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson had an embarrassing moment while discussing foreign affairs on Thursday after he responded to a question about the Syrian civil war by asking, "What is Aleppo?"
The gaffe came during an MSNBC interview about the continuing battle for Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, the most populous city in Syria which has been divided for years into government and rebel sectors and has been in the news daily in recent weeks.
"What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo," Johnson was asked.
"About Aleppo. And what is Aleppo?" he responded.
"You're kidding?" the MSNBC interviewer said.
"No," Johnson said.
"Aleppo is in Syria. ... It's the epicentre of the refugee crisis," the interviewer said.
"OK, got it. Got it," Johnson said.
The embarrassing exchange followed a forum on Wednesday night in which Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump sought to showcase their national security and defence credentials.
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, has been trying to turn the two major candidates' low approval ratings to his advantage in the race to win the November 8 election.
However, he has just 8.6 support in the current average of opinion polls by website RealClearPolitics in a matchup with Clinton, Trump, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
— John Haltiwanger (@jchaltiwanger) September 8, 2016
Gary Johnson's chance of being elected president just went from zero to zero
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) September 8, 2016
I appreciate @GovGaryJohnson's response and I believe he was caught off guard by the question.
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) September 8, 2016
The funny thing is by not knowing "Aleppo" @GovGaryJohnson did more to highlight the tragic issue than any other leader this year.
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) September 8, 2016
While the Libertarian Party has long rejected US military intervention abroad, the candidate's failure to recognise one of the most troubled spots in the Middle East drew ridicule and prompted speculation that his campaign was essentially over.
Clinton, asked at a news conference about Johnson's remarks, laughed and quipped, "You can look on the map and find Aleppo."
In a statement after the MSNBC interview, Johnson said the mistake showed he was human and explained that, when asked about Aleppo, he was thinking of an acronym and not the Syrian war.
"Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes," he said.
In the 2012 presidential election, Johnson set a record for most votes won by a Libertarian candidate – about 1 percent of the popular vote – and was aiming to attract disaffected Republicans and Democrats to sustain steady growth in the party.
Libertarians promote civil liberties and a small-government agenda. Johnson has pledged to cut spending, stick to conservative fiscal policies and legalise marijuana.
Appearing on ABC's talk show "The View," Johnson reacted mildly to suggestions the gaffe would kill his campaign.
"I guess people will have to make that judgment," he said.