For example, nearly everything the Senate does requires that senators first agree to direct the body’s attention to this or that subject. That is usually done through a routine procedure called unanimous consent. But if just one senator wants to stop things, he or she can.

“Most people underestimate the importance of unanimous consent and how it will, if denied, slow down the operations of the Senate, perhaps to a halt,” says John Cornyn, the number-two ranking Republican in the Senate. “I can foresee a circumstance where every time there is an effort to do something on the floor, there is going to be an objection, and that will string out for a long time.”

If Reid goes ahead with his threat, Republicans will certainly shut down the Senate for a while; a nuclear winter will follow the nuclear option. But that is just a temporary matter. Far more serious is the GOP retaliation that is sure to come at some point in the future.

Someday, there will be a Republican majority, and there will be some issue critical to minority Democrats, or some nominee key to their future, or some GOP initiative they believe it is vital to stop. That’s when Republicans will take their revenge.