Sanders with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed his campaign in October.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden's disastrous results in Iowa and expected flop in New Hampshire have some establishment Democrats panicking.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders' simultaneous rise in national polls and strong support across the early states is intensifying their fears that the party won't put a moderate up against President Donald Trump.
  • Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville made headlines when he announced that he's "scared to death" the party will nominate Sanders, who he believes will lose to Trump.
  • While Carville is spouting off, many other Democrats are trying not to publicly tick off Sanders' supporters and stress that the party has to let the process play itself and unite around the nominee.
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Former Vice President Joe Biden's disastrous results in Iowa and expected flop in New Hampshire have some establishment and moderate Democrats panicking.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' simultaneous rise in national polls and strong support across the early states is intensifying their fears that the party won't put up a moderate to challenge President Donald Trump.

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville made headlines this week for attacking Sanders, who he called an "ideological fanatic" and argued is appealing to a small, fringe voter base that won't translate into a broad coalition in a general election.

"We've got to be a majoritarian party. The urban core is not gonna get it done. What we need is power," Carville said in an MSNBC interview that went viral. "We have one moral imperative, and that's to beat Donald Trump."

Critics of Sanders argue the Vermont lawmaker will alienate conservative Democrats and swing state independents who are turned off by democratic socialism and his most progressive policy positions. They say he'll hurt down-ballot candidates running in purple and red states and districts.

"There's no chance in hell we'll ever win the Senate with Sanders at the top of the party defining it for the public," Carville said.

Unite or bust

While Carville is spouting off, other Democrats are trying not to publicly tick off Sanders' supporters and stress that the party has to unite around whoever becomes the nominee.

Adrienne Elrod, a former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and self-described moderate, said she and many other former Clinton supporters are "starting to come around to the notion that Sanders is a more viable candidate in the general than people give him credit for."

She cited Sanders' capacity to generate enthusiasm among young voters and appeal to working class white voters and those who supported Obama and then Trump in 2016.

She suggested establishment Democrats like Carville don't have their finger on the pulse of young voters and the party's diversifying base. But she conceded that Sanders' major challenge is appealing to conservative Democrats.

"Can he bring the people like my parents in Arkansas who are moderate Democrats and aren't gonna vote for Trump, but feel very weird voting for Sanders?" she told Insider.

Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member and donor from New York, argued that Carville's opinion isn't necessarily "the gospel."

"Democrats have got to come out of group therapy, get off their yoga mats, and understand we're in for a tough election and we've got to stay focused and united," Zimmerman told Insider.

Andrew Feldman, a DC-based Democratic strategist, similarly condemned Carville's comments, calling them "out of touch" and "petty." He argued that the establishment should listen to the voters and let the process play out so that the candidate with the most energy behind them moves on to the general.

"That kind of rhetoric is completely detrimental to the ultimate goal of beating Donald Trump," he told Insider. "It plays right into Trump's argument that we're in disarray, that we can't get our act together."

Biden's implosion and a 'tremendous backlash'

Democrats across the political spectrum do agree that Biden might not be viable if he fares poorly in New Hampshire and Nevada, and crucial donors abandon him.

A Democratic pollster, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the race, said that if Biden finds himself with less than 20% support in national polling after New Hampshire, it's unlikely he'll last.

"There's no precedent for somebody finishing as badly as he's going to in Iowa and New Hampshire and ever even winning a nomination," he said. "You can say all you want about Iowa and New Hampshire not being representative - they aren't - but still, these are significant states with intense campaigning where people had a chance to size him up and he was found wanting."

Elrod agreed that Biden can't stay in the race if he doesn't come in first or second place in Nevada and win South Carolina.

The pollster warned it's "entirely possible" that there will be a "tremendous backlash" from the Democratic establishment if Sanders moves closer to the nomination.

"We are walking into a dangerous game here," he said. "There's no question this has a chance of becoming a trainwreck."

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