Bernie Sanders had better find a way to get a majority of first-ballot delegates for the Democratic convention. If he doesn’t, his plurality won’t suffice — if the party establishment has anything to say about it. And as the New York Times discovers, they do — quite a bit, in fact, and they may be past the point of caring about splitting the party. They will do anything to prevent a socialist takeover of the party, if it comes to that:

Dozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are not just worried about Mr. Sanders’s candidacy, but are also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance. Since Mr. Sanders’s victory in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, The Times has interviewed 93 party officials — all of them superdelegates, who could have a say on the nominee at the convention — and found overwhelming opposition to handing the Vermont senator the nomination if he arrived with the most delegates but fell short of a majority.

Such a situation may result in a brokered convention, a messy political battle the likes of which Democrats have not seen since 1952, when the nominee was Adlai Stevenson.

“We’re way, way, way past the day where party leaders can determine an outcome here, but I think there’s a vibrant conversation about whether there is anything that can be done,” said Jim Himes, a Connecticut congressman and superdelegate, who believed the nominee should have a majority of delegates.

From California to the Carolinas, and North Dakota to Ohio, the party leaders say they worry that Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist with passionate but limited support so far, will lose to President Trump, and drag down moderate House and Senate candidates in swing states with his left-wing agenda of “Medicare for all” and free four-year public college.

Consider carefully what this means — and what they know this means. If Sanders rolls into Milwaukee with a plurality of delegates, which appears to be the most likely scenario, he and his followers will demand the nomination on the basis of that win. If the superdelegates (almost 800 of them) decide to go with someone Sanders bested in the primaries, all hell will break loose on the convention floor, and that might not even be a figurative prediction. Sanders’ campaign workers talk about guillotines and burning down Milwaukee and other cities even if Sanders wins. Imagine what they will do in this scenario.

At the very least, however, Democrats will end up losing the entire progressive wing of the party over the snub. That’s not just for the presidential election either, but all the down-ballot races, plus field organizing, volunteer campaigners — all the way down the scale. That kind of break might cripple the Democrats for years, with the alternative being a transformation into the Democratic Socialist Party that drives everyone else into the waiting arms of Republicans. It’s a disaster either way.

The only way to avoid that is to keep Sanders from amassing any kind of significant delegate lead. One megadonor wants Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to make an endorsement now to prevent Sanders from progressing, as Allahpundit wrote last night, but thus far they seem reluctant to intervene. Both have demurred from doing so (be sure to read AP’s argument on why that is futile), but this NYT report is a response to that inaction. The superdelegates and other party officials are warning Pelosi and Schumer that vacillation will cost them their party, one way or the other. It’s not just the megadonors who see Sanders as a disaster on a grand enough scale that they’re willing to risk utter ruination to stop it. If the party leaders won’t lead, these same establishment figures will start looking for replacements who can.

When people claim that Sanders’ rise is not really that big of a deal and that he’s not as extreme as he’s being painted, they should read this NYT report carefully. Democrats aren’t making these kinds of plans over someone who’s just a skosh off their center. They know Sanders better than most, and they’re outright scared of putting him within voting range of the White House, enough to burn the party to the ground to stop it. That tells us all we need to know about Sanders.