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U.S. Democratic Senate candidate and current U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III, who is running for the seat held by U.S. Senator Ed Markey, speaks at his primary election rally in Watertown, Mass., on September 1, 2020.

BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters

By tacking to the middle of the road in nominating the innocuous Joe Biden, the Democrats thought they would rid themselves of the threat of being tagged as a belligerent band of socialists who would bring lawlessness and ruin to America.

But no one can manipulate the national conversation like Donald Trump. Remarkably, he has downsized the gravity of the calamitous coronavirus pandemic while fomenting a socialist scare campaign, claiming that the lifelong moderate is a Trojan horse from which loathsome lefties will pour forth the moment he gains power.

Unlike so many of his other claims, however, the demagogue is not totally plucking this from fantasyland. Core progressives, spearheaded by 30-year-old political powerhouse Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are gaining strength by the day in the party.

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An illustration came Tuesday, when the unheard-of happened in Massachusetts. Dating back to the 1940s, the Kennedy family had won 26 straight victories in the Pilgrim State. This time a Kennedy lost. Congressman Joseph Kennedy Jr., the 39-year-old grandson of Bobby Kennedy, failed to unseat Senator Ed Markey, a 74-year-old first elected to Congress in 1976, in the Democratic primary.

The old warhorse’s seat looked ripe for the taking by the upstart, red-maned Kennedy. But he was outfoxed; a moderate in the past, Mr. Markey saw which way the party winds were blowing and remade himself by co-authoring, with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal, which enabled him to tap into the support of her and her legions. As Mr. Markey noted, her support was critical to his victory.

Mr. Kennedy, who had the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, became seen as an establishment Democrat who had little reason besides overarching ambition to challenge the incumbent. He went down with class, saying of his opponent, “The senator is a good man. You have never heard me say otherwise.”

He didn’t play up the Kennedy name in the campaign, and it’s now more clear than ever that it is no longer a Kennedy party. Nor is it really the Biden party. Old Joe, 77, is a placeholder. It is the party of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, stacked with followers of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and with warriors against climate change, economic inequality and social injustice.

Congressman Richard Neal, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, was able to stave off his own primary challenge from a core progressive to win his Massachusetts primary on Tuesday. But the liberal wing of the party still chalked up several upsets in House primaries the past few months, taking down long-time incumbents.

The new liberals are hardly, of course, the terrifying anarchists that Mr. Trump makes them out to be. But their democratic-socialist leanings provide the Republicans with at least some justification for their Trojan-horse contention.

The Grand Old Party began running new ads in battleground states Wednesday labelling Mr. Biden a tool of the radical left. For his part, the Democratic nominee readily rebuts the canard. “You know me, you know my heart, you know my story, my family story,” he said Monday. “Ask yourself: do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”

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Indeed, he’s tried to keep the more hard-edged progressives out of the limelight. He gave Ms. Ocasio-Cortez only one minute of speaking time at the Democratic convention.

Since her election not even two years ago as the youngest congresswoman ever, she has developed a mammoth following. She captures the zeitgeist in so many ways. She is an American woman of colour – young, smart, charismatic, eloquent. She is a daring and witty woman with vision – a package liberals could only dream of. No young man in the Washington political firmament comes close.

With respect to Mr. Biden, AOC, as she is known, demurred. “Oh God,” she said in January, “in any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party. But in America, we are.”

Despite her youth, she has outreach with the old, saying of her support for Bernie Sanders and Mr. Markey that “it’s not age that counts,” rather “the age of your ideas.”

But because of what Mr. Trump is doing, Mr. Biden wants to keep his superstar under wraps.

It’s a major risk. While he correctly fears that she provides fodder to the President’s claims, the Democrats have to get their base vote out to win this election. There is no greater mobilizer of that base than her, as Joe Kennedy would testify.

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Hillary Clinton was too much the establishment candidate in 2016. Mr. Biden can’t afford to repeat that mistake.

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