The night before Joe Biden was set to sit down on The Late Show for his first late-night interview as an official 2020 presidential candidate, Stephen Colbert downplayed his recent “gaffe” conflating multiple war stories into one tale of heroism that got nearly every detail wrong, including his elected position at the time.
“Look, when you hear that, there’s really only one thing to say about Joe Biden,” Colbert said on Tuesday. “He’d be a much better president than Donald Trump.”
The host gave Biden a chance to defend himself on Wednesday’s show.
“You want to talk about issues, but a lot of people want to talk about your gaffes,” Colbert said, noting that his guest has called himself a “gaffe-machine” on occasion. After listing off just a few of the factual errors Biden has made over the past few weeks, it soon became clear he was setting the candidate up for a joke.
“Look, the reason I came on the Jimmy Kimmel show…” Biden said to cheers from the audience and a laugh from Colbert.
Asked if it’s “fair” to criticize his gaffes, Biden said, “I think it’s fair to go after a political figure for anything.” But he went on to defend himself by adding, “Any gaffes that I’ve made, and I’ve made gaffes like every politician I know has, have been not about the substantive issue.”
Speaking to the controversial Afghanistan story specifically, Biden said, “I was not talking about me, I was praising the valor of all these people out there that I’ve visited, over 20 visits in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I’ve watched these people and I’ve watched what they’ve done.”
Essentially, he argued it’s more about the sentiment than the details. Colbert agreed that this type of “empathy” is something “we sorely need right now.”
“Look, it’s a different thing to say, when you’re talking about honoring bravery or the sacrifice or what other people went through and the essence of it is absolutely true,” Biden said. “The fact that I said I was vice president—well, in one case I was vice president-elect in the other I was a senator. I’m not sure that’s relevant.”
Then came the pivot to Trump: “But I don’t get wrong things like we should lock kids up in cages at the border.”
“But some details are relevant,” Colbert pushed back. “Because that's where the devil lives, is in the details.”