A party already decimated at the state level by gerrymandering and population sorting patterns is in the minority in both the House and the Senate, and it does not hold the presidency. And as of Wednesday, those last two things mean it is now confronting an increasing deficit on the all-important United States Supreme Court. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's retirement means the court will very likely soon have a sturdier 5-4 conservative majority.
The court was arguably the one piece of the puzzle that had not completely deserted the Democratic Party. Republicans recently set a record of controlling about two-thirds of state legislative chambers. They set another record with 33 out of 50 governor's seats. They control the entire government in 25 states, while Democrats have just seven. Democrats' recruiting base has been almost completely drained, with the vast majority of competitive districts controlled by the GOP -- in part thanks to the fact that they drew the maps to make them lean Republican.
Trump's shocking win would have been bad enough by itself. But the GOP also held the Senate that day and did not lose much from its House majority. Even worse, while Democrats appeared primed to win back one or both of those chambers this November, that momentum has been arrested. It could be further arrested by the enthusiasm created by a new conservative Supreme Court justice just before Election Day.
Democrats are basically powerless to prevent that from happening. They drew closer in the Senate thanks to an unexpected win in the Alabama special election, leaving Republicans with a bare 51-49 majority and just one vote to spare to confirm their nominee. Democrats will fantasize that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) or Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will take a stand with them. But that's likely fanciful; it is much more likely that some of the 10 Democrats seeking reelection in red states will cross party lines in the name of being reelected. With Supreme Court nominees needing just a majority thanks to a series of machinations in recent years, the math is just not there.
Things still haven't hit rock-bottom for Democrats. While Kennedy was the supposed swing vote on the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is its oldest member and comes from its left flank. If she exits before 2020, that would give Trump a third Supreme Court nominee in one term and likely turn the 5-4 conservative edge into a 6-3 one -- thereby cementing the conservative majority for potentially decades to come. Kennedy may be the retirement Democrats feared; Ginsburg is the one they dread.
It's an awful, almost steadily deteriorating set of circumstances for Democrats. And just when they thought it may be looking up, it has taken another turn for the worse.