Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The past week hasn’t been great for Joe Biden, who'd been seen as the front-runner for the Democratic 2020 nomination for much of the race. And it got worse on Sunday.
During an appearance in New Hampshire, where recent polling shows him locked in a virtual tie for third place, Biden responded to concerns about his national electability by asking the questioner, a female student at Georgia’s Mercer University, if she had ever been to a caucus. When she responded yes, Biden didn’t believe her.
“No, you haven’t. You’re a lying, dog-faced pony soldier,” Biden responded, to laughter from the audience.
“It was a little bit confusing in Iowa,” Biden continued. “But let's assume everything was exactly right in Iowa. The idea that you come in with about half the delegates the leaders came in with in Iowa does not necessarily say how you're going to win Pennsylvania, how you’re going to win Michigan.”
Biden’s campaign has downplayed the comment — which was picked up by Republican and liberal commentators alike — as a playful jab quoting a John Wayne movie, one that Biden has used before on the campaign trail.
“[I]t’s a joke that was met with.... drumroll... laughter in the room and from the questioner,” Biden traveling national press secretary Remi Yamamoto tweeted later.
(The quote, which is slightly different, comes from the 1949 John Wayne movie "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," according to Slate.)
The student, identified by the Washington Post as Madison Moore, said she felt insulted by the comment, although she later clarified that she hadn’t been to a caucus and attributed her on-the-spot answer to nervousness. But it wouldn’t have been out of the question, as the neighboring state of Maine used the caucus system before making the rather foresighted decision to switch to a primary this year.
The incident is only the latest in a string of confrontations between Biden and members of the public on the campaign trail. In January, Biden poked former Iowa state representative and activist Ed Fallon in the chest and told him to “vote for someone else” when Fallon pressed him to commit to more aggressive action on climate change. "I was really kind of taken aback. I was genuinely shocked," Fallon told local news station KCCI following the confrontation.
The month before that, in an Iowa town hall, a man accused the former vp of “selling access to the president, just like [Trump] is,” referring to his son’s business dealings in Ukraine, and said Biden was “too old for the job.” Biden called him a “damn liar” and challenged him to a number of contests to prove his fitness for the presidency.
“You want to check my shape? Let’s do pushups together here, man,” Biden said. “Let’s run, let’s do whatever you want to do, let’s take an IQ test.”
As for Moore, it’s safe to say Biden didn’t win her over.
“Joe Biden has been performing incredibly poorly in this race,” Moore told the Washington Post in a statement. “His inability to answer a simple question from a nobody college student like me only exacerbates that reality.”
Cover image: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Hudson, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)