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The Joe Biden We Know

It took three tries and more than 30 years, but Joe Biden will finally accept the Democratic Party nomination for President Thursday evening. The moment is a personal triumph, and a credit to the former Vice President’s doggedness and the alliances he has formed over decades. Yet despite all of his many years in public life, it still isn’t clear what kind of President Mr. Biden would make.

Let’s assume that the gilded testimonials to Mr. Biden’s personal character at this week’s Democratic convention are true. He is by all accounts a nice guy. He cares about people, powerful or not. He can forge alliances across the aisle. He does not kick down at adversaries, at least most of the time. In other words, he’s running as not Donald J. Trump.

In the best case, Mr. Biden would take these interpersonal skills to the White House and mediate policy disputes, calm the culture wars, and work with both parties to break America’s partisan fever. He’d do the same on the world stage, defending U.S. interests without bullying allies and leading international coalitions anew.

After the disruptions of the Trump era, this political idyll sounds inviting. Mr. Biden would certainly have the media and the institutions of American culture on his side, so the daily pitched battles of the last four years would be muted, at least for a time.


Yet there’s cause to doubt this happily-ever-after-Trump scenario—and the reasons include the man and the times. Regarding the man, Mr. Biden has never been a politician of strong political convictions. He’s a professional partisan Democrat whose beliefs have shifted as the party’s have.

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