Reports that Joe Biden is preparing a run for the White House in 2020 seemed to draw a response from Donald Trump on Thursday. The former vice-president would “go down fast and hard, crying all the way”, the president tweeted, if he ever acted on a repeatedly expressed wish to “beat the hell” out of Trump over his comments about women.
Talk of a Biden run for the presidency has persisted since the 2016 campaign, in which it has been claimed he was considered as a last-minute replacement for Hillary Clinton. Biden, who has said he thinks he could have won in 2016, has not counted out a run in the next election. He has also opened two policy organisations and a political action committee.
On Thursday he announced a three-point “Plan to Put Work – and Workers – First” and a roster of big-name advisers including senior figures from the Obama administration. The former acting US attorney general Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump for opposing his first travel ban, is on the list.
The former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus said in a speech in Hong Kong this week that Biden “could be a pretty serious candidate”, although he added that he did not think a Democratic party moving left in opposition to Trump would “embrace” such a centralist figure.
Biden, 75, spoke on Tuesday, telling students at an anti-sexual assault event at the University of Miami: “A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it.’
“They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said ‘no.’ I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.’”
Biden was referring to recorded comments by Trump, 71, that surfaced during the 2016 election, in which he bragged about his power to make sexual advances to women, including being able to “grab them by the pussy”.
Trump denies multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. He is currently being sued separately by a pornographic film star and a Playboy model who allege affairs with him and an Apprentice contestant who says he sexually harassed her.
In 2016, he apologised for the “pussy” comments, which he characterised as “locker room talk”. He has since reportedly said he thinks the tape may be a fake.
Biden said: “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life. I’m a pretty damn good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.”
On Thursday morning, Trump – who has used the full version of “SOB”, son of a bitch, to describe figures including NFL players who kneel for the anthem and NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd – duly hit back.
“Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy,” the president wrote. “Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.
Trump, who has exhorted supporters to beat protesters and once hinted that “second amendment people” might act if Hillary Clinton became president, added: “Don’t threaten people Joe!”
Biden has threatened to take Trump “behind the gym” before. At a 2016 rally for Clinton in Toledo, Ohio, for example, he said: “I’ll get myself in trouble and say something like, ‘I’d like to take himself behind the gym if I were in high school.’
“I mean, all kidding aside, wouldn’t you? I mean, for real. Can you imagine a guy in the locker room talking that way? And your sister’s out there watching the game. Not a joke.”
Trump responded then too, calling Biden “Mr Tough Guy” and saying of fighting him: “Some things in life you could really love doing.”