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How Joe Biden changed, and changed, and changed — and made it to the White House

Joe Biden, explained.

Irish Relatives Of Joe Biden Celebrate His Presidential Victory
American flags seen in Ballina, Ireland, where Joe Biden’s distant relatives hail from.
Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Joe Biden has won the 2020 presidential election. He will be the 46th president of the United States. And — counting the votes of people — it won’t be close. If current trends hold, Biden will see a larger popular vote margin than Hillary Clinton in 2016, Barack Obama in 2012, or George W. Bush in 2004.

Commentary over the past few days has focused on the man he beat, and the incompetent coup being attempted in plain sight. But here I want to focus on Biden, who is one of the more misunderstood figures in American politics — including, at times, by me.

Part of the difficulty of understand Biden is, ironically, the length of his time in office. He has been in national politics for almost five decades. So people tend to fixate on the era of Joe Biden they encountered first — the young widower, the brash up-and-comer, the centrist Senate dealmaker, the overconfident foreign policy hand, the meme-able vice president, the grieving father. But Biden, more so than most politicians, changes. And it’s how he changes, and why, that’s key to understanding his campaign, and his likely presidency.

Evan Osnos is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, a sharp biography of the next president. In this podcast, Osnos and I discuss:

  • The mystery of Joe Biden’s first political campaign
  • Why the Joe Biden who entered the Senate in 1980 is such a radically different person than the Joe Biden who ran for president in 2020
  • What the Senate taught Biden
  • Biden’s ideological flexibility, and the theory of politics that drives it
  • The differences between Biden’s three presidential campaigns — and what they reveal about how he’s grown
  • The way Biden views disagreement, and why that’s so central to his understanding of politics
  • How Biden’s relationship with Barack Obama changed his approach to governance
  • The similarities — and differences — between how Obama and Biden think about politics
  • Why Biden is “the perfect weathervane for where the center of the Democratic Party is”
  • Biden’s relationship with Mitch McConnell
  • How Biden thinks about foreign policy
  • Why Biden has become more skeptical about the use of American military might in the last decade

And much more. Listen by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show podcast, or streaming the episode here.