The old phrase “feel the Bern” is giving way to “fear the Bern.” Sen. Bernie Sanders — White House hopeful, Vermont independent and self-described democratic socialist — is causing angst in some circles.

“Bernie is frightening the Democrats,” writes National Review columnist Jim Geraghty, who describes the phenomenon as a “sudden Democratic panic” now that Mr. Sanders is scoring big on significant polls — with complimentary press coverage to match.

“One week before the Iowa caucuses, with Bernie Sanders leading most polls in that state and in New Hampshire, the rest of the Democratic party is suddenly realizing that the Vermont senator could well win the nomination. At NBC News, Politico, and ABC News, the big story is that the Democratic establishment has been caught asleep at the wheel for a second straight cycle,” said Mr. Geraghty.

Indeed, Mr. Sanders has already taken the lead in California, propelled by voters who are “very liberal,” according to a Los Angeles Times tally, with strong backing by Latinos and young voters. He is also leading in a new Iowa State University poll released Wednesday.

The phenomenon could benefit Republicans.

“We issued a warning a year ago that Sanders could win the nomination and would likely lose to President Trump.,” Matt Bennett — vice president of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way — told ABC News.

While the Democrats are not too keen on publicly criticizing Mr. Sanders at this point, Republicans are ready to rumble.

“A lot of stuff that was either no big deal or dismissed as ‘just Bernie being Bernie’ in Vermont will look really bad in GOP attack ads in all of those swing states,” Mr. Geraghty predicted.

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