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Bernie’s Primary Victories Have MSNBC in Full-On Freakout Mode

In 2016 then-candidate Donald Trump shocked Fox News by proving that he had a tighter grip on the GOP base than the famously conservative cable channel. Sen. Bernie Sanders is doing pretty much the same thing to MSNBC right now. The Vermont independent’s campaign has repeatedly skirmished with the liberal network in the lead up…

Bernie’s Primary Victories Have MSNBC in Full-On Freakout Mode

In 2016 then-candidate Donald Trump shocked Fox News by proving that he had a tighter grip on the GOP base than the famously conservative cable channel.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is doing pretty much the same thing to MSNBC right now.

The Vermont independent’s campaign has repeatedly skirmished with the liberal network in the lead up to Democratic primary voting. But those tensions boiled over with Sanders’ decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, leading some pundits to go into full-on freakout mode.

Composed largely of establishment voices, MSNBC is now grappling with how to cover a primary shaped in large part by anti-establishment fervor as it enters a crucial period leading up to Super Tuesday. It’s left the self-styled liberal analog to Fox News trapped between Democrats in Washington, many of whom worry a Sanders nomination could torpedo down-ballot races, and progressives who are calling BS on its progressive bona fides.

“If there’s an establishment point of view, MSNBC will embrace it, do propaganda on behalf of it, and attack its opponents,” said Cenk Uygur, a former MSNBC host, co-founder of The Young Turks, and current congressional candidate in California. “What makes me say that is that I have eyes and ears.”

Chris Matthews, whose “Hardball” program has run on MSNBC for more than 20 years, has personified the meltdown. After Sanders’ 26-point victory in Nevada on Saturday, the pundit compared his string of victories to the Nazis’ successful blitz of the Maginot Line — a key French defense system — in World War II.

“I’m wondering whether the Democratic moderates want Bernie Sanders to be president,” Matthews added at another point. “I mean, he takes it over, he sets the direction of the future of the party — maybe they’d rather wait four years and put in a Democrat that they like.”

Talking heads who’ve repeatedly painted Trump as a unique threat to democracy have likewise portrayed Sanders as a hopeless ideologue. Frequent MSNBC guest and former Clinton strategist James Carville told host Nicole Wallace, a former George W. Bush aide, that Sanders’ Nevada victory meant “this thing is going very well for Vladimir Putin.” The comment came just days after Sanders called Carville a “political hack” during a CNN interview.

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Former Republican lawmaker Joe Scarborough all but added on “Morning Joe” Monday that it was time to panic. He cited “a lot of buzz on Twitter” as evidence there is a demand for the party to coalesce around someone, anyone, as a never-Sanders alternative.

“Is it time for Elizabeth Warren — if she keeps finishing in fourth or fifth place — is it time to her to get out of the race to help consolidate efforts against Bernie Sanders?” Scarborough said.

Similar takes have gotten more intense in recent months. Joy Reid brought on a body language expert to evaluate the candidate’s exchange with Warren about sexism. Chuck Todd amplified a comparison of Sanders supporters to Hitler’s brown shirts. Lawrence O’Donnell framed the independent’s narrow New Hampshire victory as evidence of weakness.

Primetime host Chris Hayes has been more open to Sanders, while a few of the network’s contributors have begun taking aim at its positioning in the Democratic primary. On Sunday, analyst Anand Giridharadas went so far as to call out Matthews’ analysis directly in a broader critique of the political establishment.

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