Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic race, has been hit by a new wave of gaffes and errors over just a few days – something that President Trump and his reelection campaign are increasingly pointing to as a problem for the potential White House rival.
Biden was hit by a Washington Post report this week that found that a moving military story – which the former senator called “God’s truth” – was not true.
The story was an emotional account of Biden’s decision to travel to Afghanistan, despite concerns about visiting a war-torn area, in order to honor a Navy captain for retrieving the body of his dead comrade during battle.
According to Biden, he brushed off concerns about the risk of him traveling to the deadly area. “We can lose a vice president,” he said, recounting his words to a crowd during an event on Friday. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.” His story involved the captain dramatically telling Biden he didn’t want the medal because his comrade ended up dying.
But after speaking with more than a dozen military and campaign sources, the Post determined the event “never happened” and that “almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect.”
The gaffe bemused even sympathetic analysts, with MSNBC host Chris Matthews insisting that a reporter would be fired for making such errors.
“I mean, he’s not Ernest Hemingway. You don’t get to make it up based upon facts. You have to have the facts,” he said.
Biden, 76, later told The Post that he “was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost.”
Biden also drew scrutiny this week when he said in South Carolina that he didn’t know U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I don’t know the new prime minister of England. He looks like Donald Trump, I know that,” he said at a town hall.
Apart from being a swipe at someone with whom he may need to forge good ties with as president, the comment is notable because Johnson has long been an internationally known politician. He recently served as the country’s foreign secretary and was mayor of London when Biden was vice president. It also isn’t Biden’s only British-related gaffe. In May, he said the prime minister was Margaret Thatcher (who served as prime minister from 1979 until 1990), not then-PM Theresa May. He quickly corrected himself.
Biden has long had a reputation for gaffes, but they appear to have grown in number during this campaign, leading to some speculation about whether his age could become a factor in the 2020 campaign. Trump has called Biden by the nickname “Sleepy Joe” for some time.
Last weekend, Biden said in New Hampshire: “I love this place, what’s not to like about Vermont?” He later appeared to have difficulty recalling where he had just spoken.
Last year he admitted to being a gaffe “machine,” but said it was better than what he described as President Trump’s repeated lies in public.
“I am a gaffe machine, but my God what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth,” he said.
The gaffes so far appear not to have too much effect on his polling status. While some polls have shown the race tightening, particularly between Biden and rival Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the former vice president remains in the lead in most polls. A number of those polls also show him beating President Trump in a prospective 2020 matchup.
Yet as the campaign progresses, he is likely to face more scrutiny for the gaffes both from rival Democratic campaigns and the Trump campaign – which will be keen to take down Biden if they view him as the presumptive future opponent.
In recent weeks, Trump has made a series of comments about Biden’s presumed mental state. Earlier this month, he said that “Joe is not playing with a full deck.”
He made that remark after Biden told a crowd in Iowa that “poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids.” Biden quickly corrected himself after some applause from the crowd at the Asian & Latino Coalition PAC, and finished, “wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.”
“This is not somebody you can have as your president, but if he got the nomination I’d be thrilled,” Trump said.
The Trump team has also drawn attention to Biden’s most recent set of errors and suggested they represent more than just gaffes.
“These are not gaffes, it is a problem with Joe Biden and it is causing a lot of Democrats to start to rethink their frontrunner,” Mark Lotter, the Trump campaign’s strategic communications director, said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” Friday.
“He’s still the frontrunner at this point but he’s struggling to get through these primaries right now,” Lotter said, adding that the challenges of battling through a primary don’t compare to challenging a sitting president.
“If he’s struggling, imagine what’s going to happen next year,” he said.
However, others dismissed the concerns that it could affect Biden’s chances. Colin Reed, a Republican strategist, wrote in a Fox News op-ed that the many years of Biden missteps are “an ingredient already baked in the cake” for voters.
He instead pointed to next week’s debate in Houston, Texas — where Biden will share the sage with Warren for the first time – as a much bigger threat to his frontrunner status.
“Unlike Biden, Warren is in her element on the debate stage. Where he stammers and stumbles, she relishes cutting down rivals under the klieg lights,” he wrote. “In Houston, for the first time, she will get to face Biden in her natural setting.”
Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said that Biden’s team isn’t too concerned with the gaffes, but believes it could ultimately hurt his fundraising – and could give a much-needed boost to the rapidly gaining Warren.
“I think with these gaffes, too, as they hurt Biden’s fundraising, they hurt his crowds and they make this a much more difficult contest even though his numbers have stayed steady,” Schoen said.
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and Sam Dorman contributed to this report.