Let’s get right to the good stuff: In a new poll conducted by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, just 33 percent of those surveyed think the Democratic Party is “in the mainstream.” More than half (56 percent) consider them out of step.

Just two years ago in 2016, those numbers were far different: 48 percent mainstream, 42 percent out. That means the “mainstream” number has plunged 12.5 percent, a huge drop in just two years.

Man, it’s not easy being a Democrat these days.

Chief among the party’s problems (and they have many) is that the Democrats lack a leader. The last head of the party, Barack Obama, took his mojo with him when he left town, and he’s busy partying it up with Jay-Z and Beyonce in Paris. Meanwhile, 2020 is still too far away, so no one has yet emerged around whom the party faithful can rally.

The Democratic Party is a rudderless ship, and the captain left on a life raft years ago. Only the rats are still on board.

What few leaders the party has are all ancient mariners: Rep. Nancy Pelosi is 78, Sen. Bernie Sanders is 76, the two-time loser Hillary Clinton is 70, the wannabe nominee for 2020, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is 69, and the party’s angriest member, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is 67. That’s 360 years combined if you’re keeping score at home.

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Still others are just downright nuts, like Rep. Maxine Waters. The networks love putting her on the air to rail against President Trump, but all those Americans out there see is another crazy out-of-the-mainstream Democrat.

Sure, Hillary is still waltzing around in her housecoat or muumuu or whatever the heck she was wearing the other day. And she’s still exhausted and still coughing her lungs out as she makes little murmuring noises that she’ll run again. She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s zero chance the party will nominate her again. Zero.

So that’s left a vacuum in the party. Into that gaping hole has stepped Mr. Sanders and his new buddy, fellow socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old former bartender preaching free everything for everybody as she runs for a House seat. The two socialists joined forces last week to campaign for House candidates in Kansas, where they preached their socialist ideals to a packed auditorium.

The new slogan for the Democratic Party is “A Better Deal,” and the pair declared that means lots of free stuff for everyone. They’ll tax those horrible rich people and those awful corporations (who cares if they’re the ones giving regular people jobs), and they’ll somehow come up with $1 trillion for free health care and a trillion more for all the other free stuff they want to give away.

Now, let’s be clear: That pitch works in the cities and along the two coasts. But it sure doesn’t play in Peoria.

Suddenly, and perhaps not surprisingly, a whole bunch of moderate Democrats are getting worried. They don’t want the party to embrace the socialist pitch — toward which some Democrats have been moving for nearly two years — and warn that if they do, the party will crash and burn in 2020.

Then there’s this: Democrats gathered in Ohio last week for a conference organized by the center-left think tank Third Way. The group spent a year taking the pulse of rank-and-file Democrats and came away with one key finding: Socialism doesn’t sell.

“Once again, the time has come to mend, but not end, capitalism for a new era,” Third Way President Jonathan Cowan said in a speech to a few hundred congressmen and Democratic officials. The group is encouraging Democrats to do what Bill Clinton did in the 1990s: moderate. Sure, the centrist take won’t excite the activist wing of the party, but Americans love the middle.

Which is what makes that new NBC/WSJ poll’s findings so fascinating. In 2016, Democrats argued that President Trump was far outside the mainstream, but he turned out not to be. Now, just one-third of those polled think the Democrats of today are mainstream.

Where the party goes next is anyone’s guess. But where it’s going right now apparently scares all those flyover-country “mainstream” Americans.

⦁ Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.

© Copyright (c) 2018 News World Communications, Inc.

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