But the conservative sensibility is much older than the post-Goldwater Republican Party. In fact, one way to understand the American Constitution is as a grand effort to instantiate in the country’s fundamental law a temperamentally conservative approach to small-r republican self-government. Yes, we have elections to gauge public opinion and act as one of several checks on overweening government power. But public opinion itself is checked and channeled into institutions explicitly designed to slow down decision making, cool down partisan passions, and encourage restraint. That’s why impeaching and removing a president, like amending the Constitution itself, is hard, requiring that those behind the efforts muster supermajorities to enact their plans.

It’s in this sense that Joe Biden is a conservative. Throughout his career he has taken his strongest public stands in favor of norms, rules, traditions, and institutions designed to restrain and balance competing forces in our politics. He tends not to be motivated by moral or ideological imperatives. This is abundantly clear from his long-standing record of hesitation to support impeachment as a remedy for presidential malfeasance, recently and usefully summarized in The New York Times.