It’s panic mode for the Democratic establishment

Updated

It’s Panic Time for the Democratic establishment

No, Bernie Sanders likely isn’t ahead in New Hampshire by 27 points, as yesterday’s CNN/WMUR poll showed (the other polling just doesn’t back that up). But 12 days before the Iowa caucuses and 20 days before the New Hampshire primary, there’s something happenin’ out there. And now he’s viewed as enough of a legitimate threat that the Democratic establishment and the liberal wonks are piling on him as if he were the frontrunner. It started Monday after the debate, when liberal writers like Paul KrugmanJonathan Chait, and Ezra Klein either blasted Sanders’ single-payer plan or argued he’d make a poor president in these politically polarized times. Then yesterday, author Ta-Nehisi Coates criticized Sanders for proposing utopian prescriptions on economic matters (single-payer on health care, breaking up the big banks) but not on race (reparations for slavery). And last night for the attempted coup de grace, Democratic politicians ran to the New York Times to tell the paper that Sanders would damage the party at the top of the ticket because he’s a democratic socialist. Some of the juiciest quotes:

  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon: “Here in the heartland, we like our politicians in the mainstream, and he is not — he’s a socialist.”
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN): “It wouldn’t be helpful [on downballot races] outside Vermont, Massachusetts, Berkeley, Palo Alto and Ann Arbor.”
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO): “The Republicans won’t touch him because they can’t wait to run an ad with a hammer and sickle.”

(And then don’t miss David Brock on Bloomberg last night, labeling Sanders a “socialist… … He’s got a 30 year history of affiliation with a lot of whack-doodle ideas and parties. Think about what the Republicans will do with the fact that he’s a socialist in the fall.”)

As the political-science crowd might say, this is “The Party Decides.” Of course, it hasn’t worked – at all – on the Republican side against Trump. So, did Team Clinton ever think it would have to come to this – trying to destroy Bernie less than two weeks before Iowa?

Sanders responds with the anti-establishment card, but will that work?

Sanders tried to strike back last night by playing the outsider card, dismissing Clinton’s endorsements by groups like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign as “establishment” support. “You know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time and some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment,” he said on MSNBC. Clinton responded on Twitter, saying “Really Senator Sanders? How can you say that groups like @PPact and @HRC are part of the “establishment” you’re taking on? -H.” Here’s the thing: these aren’t just groups with significant resources to back Clinton up - they’re also THE standard-bearers for core principles of the Democratic platform. Blasting Wall Street is one thing, but this might be a riskier strategy.

The establishment/conservative one-two punch against Cruz

Speaking of the pile-on, Ted Cruz yesterday was the recipient of a one-two punch - first from the establishment (Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad), and second from the conservative grassroots (Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump). First, calling Cruz “the biggest opponent of renewable fuels,” Branstad told reporters that Cruz would be “very damaging to our state” if elected president. Cruz tried to hit back, dinging Trump for seeking “Establishment support.” Then, hours later, Trump unveiled the backing of Palin, a figure as anti-establishment as they come. On its own, the Branstad story might have been easy enough for Cruz to parry, but he got hit from BOTH sides yesterday. Still, we’ve got to imagine that Team Trump is also glad they benefitted from the one-two punch and didn’t just lean on Palin’s appearance, because the big reveal in Ames yesterday didn’t really seem to match the massive buildup to Palin’s nod. Trump never looked fully comfortable sharing the stage with her, and she used the spotlight to air some grievances that felt a little stale.

Trump has become more popular with Republicans, but he’s very unpopular with everyone else

With yesterday’s news of Palin endorsing Trump, it’s instructive to view them as similar politicians - popular with the conservative grassroots, but not popular with anyone else. Indeed, our April 2011 NBC/WSJ poll, the last time we polled her, found Palin with just a 25%-53% overall positive/negative score. And what is Trump’s positive/negative feeling thermometer in our latest NBC/WSJ poll? It’s 29% positive, 58% negative - the most unpopular politician we surveyed. Just look at these other numbers for Trump:

  • Among African Americans: 9% positive, 81% negative
  • Among Latinos: 22% positive, 69% negative
  • Among women: 26% positive, 62% negative
  • Among independents: 26% positive, 52% negative
  • Among suburban voters: 31% positive, 55% negative

Rubio’s new ad

The Florida senator is touting his tough talk during Thursday’s FOX Business debate in a new ad, highlighting his statement that Hillary Clinton is “disqualified” from serving as president. “Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being commander-in-chief of the United States. Someone who cannot handle intelligence information appropriately cannot be commander-in-chief. And someone who lies to the families of those four victims of Benghazi can never be President of the United States.” It’ll air starting today in New Hampshire and South Carolina as he keeps trying to hammer home this part of his general election pitch.

RIP, Braden Joplin

And finally.. we’ll pause today to remember Braden Joplin, a 25 year-old campaign volunteer for Ben Carson who died yesterday after a van carrying Carson staff and volunteers flipped on an icy road in Iowa. Here at First Read, we’re devastated to hear of a loss that really hits home. Campaigns are frenetic, unpredictable and, yes - often nasty on the surface - but they’re supported by networks of volunteers willing to give up their time and talents in the name of nothing more than trying to make the country a little bit better. There’s nothing that takes the cynicism out of you like talking to a young volunteer who’s a true believer willing to do anything it takes for their candidate. And a reminder to all our readers who are staff, press or volunteers out in the field this cycle: Please be careful out there. No liveshot, no event, no deadline is worth risking an accident. So drive safely, slow down, put the phone away and be late if you have to be.

On the trail

Donald Trump holds rallies with Sarah Palin in Iowa at 9:30 am ET and in Oklahoma at 1:00 pm ET… Hillary Clinton stumps in Iowa, while Bill Clinton is in New Hampshire… Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich are all in New Hampshire… And Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee campaigns in Iowa.

Countdown to Iowa: 12 days

Countdown to New Hampshire: 20 days

NBCNews’ Carrie Dann contributed to this article, which first appeared on NBCNews.com.

Bernie Sanders

It's panic mode for the Democratic establishment

Updated