In one sense, Biden isn’t a natural fit for these times. He’s always been edgy and provocative in his own right, an old school scrapper who kept a quip in his pocket and a chip on his shoulder. Sometimes it went too far—even at points in this 2020 campaign. When he challenged a mouthy Iowan to a push-up contest or went nose-to-nose with a Michigan autoworker, or questioned the Blackness of any African American who wouldn’t vote for him, Biden showed flashes of his primal self. He stirred echoes of the very president he was vowing to defeat.
And yet, that’s all it amounted to—flashes and echoes. Over the past two years, Biden has executed a campaign that is all the more brilliant because it suppresses his own core instincts. The wise guy who loved to instigate is now the wise man who wants to mediate.
It was on display Thursday night as Biden repeatedly and rightly accused Trump of governing only for his base and promised to be a president for red states and blue states alike. It was on display throughout his primary campaign, when he refused to be swept away by the whims of the left and consolidated a majority of Democrats around a theory of defeating Trump with a fire extinguisher instead of a flame thrower. It was on display two years ago, on that chilly night in Michigan, when he told yarns of a conciliatory yesteryear and wondered aloud what it might take to get back to that place again.