On a January evening in 2019, Joseph R. Biden Jr. placed a call to the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, a personal friend and political ally who had just announced he would not pursue the Democratic nomination for president.
During their conversation, Mr. Garcetti recalled, Mr. Biden did not exactly say he had decided to mount his own campaign. The former vice president confided that if he did run, he expected President Trump to “come after my family” in an “ugly” election.
But Mr. Biden also said he felt pulled by a sense of moral duty.
“He said, back then, ‘I really am concerned about the soul of this country,’” Mr. Garcetti said.
Twenty-one months and a week later, Mr. Biden stands triumphant in a campaign he waged on just those terms: as a patriotic crusade to reclaim the American government from a president he considered a poisonous figure. The language he used in that call with Mr. Garcetti became the watchwords of a candidacy designed to marshal a broad coalition of voters against Mr. Trump and his reactionary politics.
It was not the most inspirational campaign in recent times, nor the most daring, nor the most agile. The personality cult that had built up around Mr. Trump was absent: There were no prominent reports of Biden supporters branding themselves with “Joe” tattoos and lionizing him in florid murals — or even holding boat parades in his honor. Mr. Biden campaigned as a sober and conventional presence, rather than as an uplifting herald of change. For much of the general election, his candidacy was not an exercise in vigorous creativity, but rather a case study in discipline and restraint.
In the end, voters did what Mr. Biden asked of them and not much more: They repudiated Mr. Trump, while offering few other rewards to Mr. Biden’s party. And by a popular vote margin of four million and counting, Americans made Mr. Biden only the third man since the Second World War to topple a duly elected president after just one term.