The next U.S. presidential election is not until November 2020, but Republican President Donald Trump and the leading Democrat trying to oust him, former Vice President Joe Biden, are launching rhetorical slingshots at each other with gusto.
Trump, in Japan for a four-day state visit, played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, watched a sumo wrestling match and met Emperor Naruhito, but his mind strayed little from his re-election effort in throwing jabs at Biden, leading in U.S. political surveys over two dozen other Democratic presidential contenders.
For decades, U.S. presidents have generally refrained from political attacks on their opponents back home while they were overseas on diplomatic missions, and in turn, their political foes have not attacked them while they were on foreign soil.
But from Tokyo, Trump assailed "Sleepy Joe Biden" for his role as a senator in the 1994 passage of legislation that stiffened penalties for crimes that had the effect of sending more African-American defendants to prison for lengthy terms.
"That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!" Trump said on Twitter.
He also tweeted:
Trump said he "also smiled" when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse," suggesting that "Perhaps that's sending me a signal?" that Kim preferred him in the White House, not Biden. At one point, Trump misspelled the former vice president's name as "Bidan."
Asked at a news conference about Kim's assessment of Biden's intelligence, Trump responded, "Well, Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that," an attack that some lawmakers in the U.S. said was uncalled for on a fellow American, especially coming on the Memorial Day holiday honoring the country's war dead.
Biden's campaign waited to respond until minutes after Trump landed back in Washington on Tuesday afternoon.
"The president's comments are beneath the dignity of the office," a Biden spokeswoman said. "To be on foreign soil, on Memorial Day, and to side repeatedly with a murderous dictator against a fellow American and former vice president speaks for itself. And it's part of a pattern embracing autocrats at the expense of our institutions — whether taking [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's word at face value in Helsinki or exchanging 'love letters' with Kim Jong Un."
A Biden campaign official said the delayed timing of the statement was intentional, with the former vice president wanting to respect "the sacred purpose of Memorial Day, remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country."