By Jonathan Martin
New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — When Leah Daughtry, a former Democratic Party official, addressed a closed-door gathering of about 100 wealthy liberal donors in San Francisco last month, all it took was a review of the 2020 primary rules to throw a scare in them.
Democrats are likely to go into their convention next summer without having settled on a presidential nominee, said Daughtry, who ran her party’s conventions in 2008 and 2016, the last two times the nomination was contested. And Sen. Bernie Sanders is well positioned to be one of the last candidates standing, she noted.
“I think I freaked them out,” Daughtry recalled with a chuckle, an assessment that was confirmed by three other attendees.They are hardly alone.
From canapé-filled fundraisers on the coasts to the cloakrooms of Washington, mainstream Democrats are increasingly worried that their effort to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020 could be complicated by Sanders, in a political scenario all too reminiscent of how Trump himself seized the Republican nomination in 2016.
How, some Democrats are beginning to ask, do they thwart a 70-something candidate from outside the party structure who is immune to intimidation or incentive and wields support from an unwavering base, without simply reinforcing his “the establishment is out to get me’’ message — the same grievance Trump used to great effect?
But stopping Sanders, or at least preventing a contentious convention, could prove difficult for Democrats.
He has enormous financial advantages that can sustain a major campaign through the primaries. If he wins a substantial number of primaries and caucuses and comes in second in others, thanks to his deeply loyal base of voters across many states, he would pick up formidable numbers of delegates.
His strength on the left gives him a real prospect of winning the Democratic nomination. That prospect is spooking establishment-aligned Democrats, some of whom are worried that his nomination could lure a third-party centrist into the field. And it is also creating tensions about what, if anything, should be done to halt Sanders.
The peril of rallying the party’s elite donor class against a candidate whose entire public life has been organized around confronting concentrated wealth is self-evident: Sanders would gleefully seize on any Stop Bernie effort.