In at least three campaign appearances over the past two weeks, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has told a similar story as he tries to revive his campaign in states with more diverse voters. On a trip to South Africa years ago, he has said, he was arrested as he sought to visit Nelson Mandela in prison.
“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Mr. Biden said at a campaign event in South Carolina last week. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.”
Mr. Biden referred to his ownarrest twice more in the next seven days, including at a campaign stop here on Tuesday where he spoke of getting arrested in South Africa between efforts to coax his wife to marry him. That proposal occurred in 1977, both Bidens have said.
But if Mr. Biden, then a United States senator from Delaware, was in fact arrested while trying to visit Mr. Mandela, he did not mention it in his 2007 memoir when writing about a 1970s trip to South Africa, and he has not spoken of it prominently on the 2020 campaign trail. A check of available news accounts by The New York Times turned up no references to an arrest. South African arrest records are not readily available in the United States.
After recounting the story of his arrest while campaigning in South Carolina last week, Mr. Biden subsequently told it twice more in Nevada, mistakenly saying Robbens Island instead of Robben, where Mr. Mandela was held for much of his 27-year imprisonment.
And on Sunday, as he had in South Carolina, he also delivered a coda to the story.
“After he got free and became president, he came to Washington and came to my office,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Mandela at a black history awards brunch in Las Vegas. “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.’”
On Tuesday, speaking in Las Vegas at an event with Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters, he said that he “came back from South Africa, trying to see Nelson Mandela and getting arrested for trying to see him,” right before he received an answer to his marriage proposal from his now-wife, Jill Biden.
Mr. Biden has previously discussed visiting South Africa as a young senator — but his emphasis in discussing his travel there has not been on an arrest.
But hey, it’s not as if Biden has a history of taking credit for the acts and words of others or anything.
Joe Biden is incredibly bad at running for president. That the media was determined he was the invincible frontrunner for nearly all of 2018 and 2019 suggests a lot about why they are freaking out about Bernie Sanders in 2020.