It is deeply weird to me that political media spent the better of the morning seriously weighing whether this marginal candidate had done meaningful damage to his marginal campaign by spacing on the name of a city in a country whose civil war most Americans aren’t paying attention to. And there’s no better expression of that weirdness than the clip below, in which Mark Halperin breathlessly badgers Johnson about it in vintage “what about your gaffes?!” fashion. Listening to him, you would think Johnson was at 35 percent, locked in a dogfight with Clinton and Trump for Pennsylvania. He’s at eight percent in most polls, is going to miss the debates, hasn’t landed a major endorsement, and has farted away multiple chances to peel off unhappy Republican voters from Trump. The clip ends with Halperin asking whether VP nominee Bill Weld had phoned Johnson yet to manage the gaffe crisis. Uh, what? Why would Weld care? Johnson is a protest vote for most voters, in which case his Aleppo whiff doesn’t matter, and as for the true-believing libertarians backing him, his Aleppo whiff … doesn’t matter:
The thing about Libertarian foreign policy is that when you've already decided not to do anything ever, knowledge becomes irrelevant.
— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) September 8, 2016
Had this happened to Johnson three months ago, I could have bought that it hurt him. There was still a chance at the time that Mitt Romney and other prominent Republicans might endorse him over Trump. Demonstrating ignorance back then might have scared off new fans. But it’s September, and Johnson’s fate is all but sealed. If any endorsements were coming, they would have happened by now to try to boost his national profile before the final polls before the debates are taken. As it is, he’s below 10 percent in the two most recent surveys that matter, meaning he’d need to surge to something like 20 percent over the next week or two to get his average up to 15. That’s not going to happen, Aleppo or not. How he fares on Election Day now will depend not on his positions but on whether voters who disdain the two major-party nominees can resist the urge to make their votes matter by reluctantly choosing one of the two of them when they go in the booth. If you care enough about what’s happening in Syria to let it influence your vote, you were never supporting Gary Johnson to begin with.
Besides, this is sterling damage control:
The bottom line on Johnson’s whiff: Trump almost certainly has no idea what Aleppo is either and, per Iraq and Libya, whatever Hillary Clinton would want to do in Aleppo would assuredly make the situation worse. Johnson’s still no worse than the major-party nominees even amid a notorious brain fart.
Incidentally, he’s at 14 percent in the new Quinnipiac poll of Ohio and 15 percent in their new poll of North Carolina (state polls don’t count for the debate cut-off), although the only one of the two where his share of the vote affects the overall outcome is Ohio. Johnson helps turn a one-point Trump lead head-to-head there into a four-point lead in the four-way race. That’s a strong result for Trump, needless to say, and he’s also strong in Quinnipiac’s new poll of Florida, tying Hillary at 43 percent. He’s not as strong in their new numbers from North Carolina and Pennsylvania, though, trailing by four and five points, respectively. Trump needs all four states to have a solid path to 270. He can still get there with three of them, although it’s very hard. If he only wins two, he’s dunzo. It’s worth comparing the Ohio and Pennsylvania numbers to see how two neighboring states can be so different electorally:
In Ohio, Trump is stronger with Republicans than Hillary is with Democrats. In Pennsylvania, the opposite is true. In Ohio, Trump wins independents narrowly thanks to lots of help from Gary Johnson. In Pennsylvania, Hillary wins them easily and Johnson is less of a factor. In Ohio, Trump’s advantage with men is more than twice as large as Hillary’s margin with women. In Pennsylvania, once again the opposite is true. Most importantly, in Ohio Trump crushes Hillary among white men, winning them by 31 points. In Pennsylvania, his margin among them is half that. If and when PA finally starts to change, so will Trump’s chances of a presidential upset. If it doesn’t, he’ll be stuck with a long longshot in trying to flip Wisconsin or Virginia or else he’s cooked. Simple as that.