KEY POINTS

  • Bernie Sanders was leading with 46% vote in Nevada, with 60% precincts reporting
  • Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist
  • Establishment Dems worry Sanders clinching nomination will give Trump victory

The Democrats are in shock. As self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hurtles toward an insourmountable lead in the primaries, the party establishment is in full-blown panic, reports say.

Their worry: if Sanders – who has made unapologetic declarations of fealty to the socialist ideology -- seals the nomination, it will be akin to handing Trump his November presidential election win on a platter. Worse still, the establishment Dems fear the party could lose the House, too, as voters give a thumbs down to a party that is being pulled further to the left.

“In 30-plus years of politics, I’ve never seen this level of doom," Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way told Politico. "I’ve never had a day with so many people texting, emailing, calling me with so much doom and gloom."

That fear was articulated clearly by former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg in a recent interview with MSNBC host Chris Matthews.

"Most Americans and, for that matter, most Democrats don't identify with a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil,” he said. “Capitalism has all kinds of failures, which is why we need a strong Democrat ready to ensure that we hold corporations accountable, support labor unions, raise wages."

Sanders, who has worked tirelessly to put in place his election machinery since his 2016 nomination loss to Hillary Clinton, has left rival Democrats eating dust this time round.

With more than 60% of Nevada's precincts reporting, the 78-year-old is leading with 46% of the votes, leaving closest rival former Vice President Joe Biden at a distant 19.6%. The results have given Sanders almost unbeatable momentum going into South Carolina, which votes Feb. 29, and Super Tuesday, March 3, when voters in 14 states cast ballots.

He is also broadening his support base, especially among African American voters who were considered to be part of Biden't base.

Biden, who centrist Democrats had hoped would rally moderate voters to stop Sanders' march to the nomination, has so far failed to live up to those expectations and looks every bit likely to crash out of the race soon.

The mantle of the Democratic party's savior has now fallen on former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has skipped the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. But the massive beating the multi-billionaire took at the Nevada debates and his foot-in-the-mouth performance have put question marks on those hopes.

But Bloomberg said something on the debate stage that was lost amid all the headlines on the beating he took.

"I can't think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation. This is ridiculous,"  Bloomberg said . "We're not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism, and it just didn't work."

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Denver on February 16 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Denver on February 16 Photo: AFP / Jason Connolly

Sanders seems to relish the support and momentum he is enjoying and has added to the anger, and sense of urgency, among establishment Dems by throwing a defiant public challenge at them, with a tweet just ahead of his Nevada victory:

“I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us.”

As the attacks against him increased following his strong showing in Nevada, Sanders has chosen defiance over prudence, taking on the Dems establishment with open support for one of the most ruthless communist dictators in the world, that too one most reviled in the United States.

Speaking on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Sunday, Sanders doubled down on his support for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s policies, saying “it’s unfair to simply say everything was bad.”

Sanders is revelling in the attention and political momentum. But the worry in the establishment is whether the Democratic party will now rally around Sanders if he clinches the nomination.