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.