Biden campaign backpedals on claim he was arrested in South Africa

Is Joe Biden confused, or is he just a liar?

The former vice president’s campaign conceded Tuesday that Biden was never arrested while trying to see Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Washington Examiner reported. The Democratic presidential primary candidate has shared the tall tale repeatedly on the campaign trail over the last several days, but a spokesperson said Biden was probably referring to having been separated from colleagues while visiting South Africa under apartheid.

Biden campaign: Joe lied

Once hailed as the frontrunner, Biden has suffered a steep drop in momentum after disappointing results in early primary contests. South Carolina’s primary on Saturday is critically important to his campaign, and Biden has been betting on strong support from black voters in the state.

Perhaps to that end, Biden has told an inspiring — but patently false — story at campaign stops this month about his trip to South Africa with a congressional delegation in the 1970s. In South Carolina, Biden said that he “had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see [Mandela] on Robben Island,” according to The Hill.

Biden also told supporters in Las Vegas that Mandela visited him in Washington, D.C. and thanked him for trying to see him in jail. “He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’ I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me,’” Biden recalled, according to the Examiner.

But Soweto is over 700 miles from Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and the former ambassador in question told The New York Times that the arrest never happened. Biden never mentioned the story in his memoir, either.

While Biden’s version is certainly more dramatic, his deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, explained Tuesday that the former VP was simply misremembering having been separated from black colleagues in Johannesburg because of apartheid.

“It was a separation,” she said, according to the Examiner. “They, he was not allowed to go through the same door that the — the rest of the party he was with. Obviously, it was apartheid South Africa. There was a white door, there was a black door. He did not want to go through the white door and have the rest of the party go through the black door. He was separated. This was during a trip while they were there in Johannesburg.”

Mistakes and missteps

This is not the first time Biden has made confusing statements on the campaign trail. The former vice president has been mocked for numerous gaffes, sometimes requiring his campaign to clarify what he really meant, and in at least one case, his campaign tried to cash in on a flub, according to the New York Post.

In his latest misstep, Biden told a crowd in South Carolina this week that he’s campaigning to be a senator, the Post reported separately. His frequent episodes of confusion have made for the sad spectacle of a once-respected politician publicly struggling to remember names, dates, places, and even details of his own life.

The one-time frontrunner will either flop for good or get a chance to keep fighting, depending on the verdict of South Carolina voters this weekend. Biden’s poll numbers have been good in the state — he is leading by double-digit margins, according to Fox News — and NPR reports that he has won the endorsement of South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn (D), a black leader in the House. But it may be too late for Biden, or any other candidate, to stop the stunning surge of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In the meantime, Joe Biden’s campaign is, sadly, having to double as a caretaker for a man losing touch. Perhaps Biden should drop out while he still has some dignity left.

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