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With his Twitter blast at former Vice President Joe Biden’s entry into the 2020 presidential race, President Donald Trump paid him the high compliment of an insult tweet.

“Welcome to the race, Sleepy Joe,” Trump tweeted after Biden’s announcement. “I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign.”

Actually, it is Trump himself whose rude and crude bully-boy approach to politics and governance has given the biggest boost to Biden’s viability at age 76 and after failed attempts to win the nomination in 1988 and 2008.

Yet whether he intended it or not, Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” nickname alludes to one of the biggest questions facing Biden’s aspirations in today’s Democratic Party: In the language of today’s young progressives — which makes my millennial son roll his eyes every time he hears me try to use it — is Biden “woke” enough to deserve their vote?

Biden’s biggest political strength has not been in wokeness. It has been in his political roots and popularity among working-class and middle-class moderates, particularly those in the industrial upper Midwest who voted for Barack Obama, then switched to Trump.

But after two other centrist Democratic presidents, Obama and Bill Clinton, the party’s progressives are rising with new vigor in far-left lanes, and pushing for youth, gender diversity and wokeness to the left-progressive agenda.

But even Sen. Bernie Sanders, who helped turn “Medicare for All” from a fringe slogan to a mainstream issue, has run into questions of wokeness, particularly in regard to women and voters of color. On the day before Biden’s announcement, the Vermont independent was booed at a presidential candidates forum sponsored by She the People, a group that aims to boost voter participation among women of color.

The booing arose after he was asked what he would do about “white supremacists” and he responded with nostalgic recollections of his marching with various civil rights leaders. “Come on,” a woman shouted from the back, according to news accounts, and the booing began.

Biden was smart, then, to center his 3 1/2-minute announcement video around images of torch-carrying white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., where a woman protesting the racists was killed. Biden then quoted Trump’s view, twice, that there were “some very fine people on both sides,” playing the anti-Trump card for all its worth — and it’s worth a lot to the otherwise largely divided Dems.

But Biden’s centrism has advantages. In different versions, it brought victories to presidents Obama and Clinton. Each focused less on ideology than on the bread-and-butter kitchen-table issues that Democrats are trying to promote now, as they are trying to show they are committed to more issues than simply opposing Trump.

Biden may seem out of touch to activists but well in touch with the party’s mainstream voters. He’s also capable of change. He has moved toward the left gradually over the years, sometimes coming out as more progressive than Obama on such issues as same-sex marriage.

As someone who has covered him on various occasions since the 1980s, I think Biden’s biggest strength is his image of authenticity. Even when it leads to gaffes, as he said in the 2012 campaign, “I always tell the truth.” We’ll see about that. Voters will forgive a lot, if they think a candidate is sincere and willing to correct mistakes. We’ve had enough phoniness in politics already.

Contact Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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