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While President Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee from the west hall of the White House, somewhere in Washington Chuck Schumer was gearing up for the political dogfight of his life.

As the minority leader prepares that resistance, he needs to memorize three numbers: 78, 80, and 83. Those digits are the ages of Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest liberal Supreme Court justices.

They might as well be the key code to stop nuclear proliferation in the U.S. Senate.

Democrats are at risk of making Republicans go nuclear if they hold up Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. If they force Mitch McConnell to pull the trigger, the Republican majority leader and noted institutionalist isn’t likely to hold back next time around. When a simple majority is all that’s required, there’s no telling who an increasingly conservative GOP might nominate.

With a progressive faction breathing down his neck, Schumer has to throw some punches. He just can’t hit too hard. That means Democrats can bruise Gorsuch. Angry that Merrick Garland never got a vote, they will want to rough him up a little. They just can’t Bork him. That is to say, they can’t try to defeat him through a systematic campaign of defamation and villification, as Democrats did with Ronald Reagan nominee Robert Bork in 1987.

Why? Because even if Trump occupies the White House for only four years, chances are good he’ll get at least one more Supreme Court nominee. Should a populist electorate pull off another stunner and hand Trump a second term, he could have as many as three shots at the court.

Of course rage against Republicans shouldn’t be discounted. Perhaps the notorious RGB won’t go gently into that judicial goodnight. But she’d have to hold on for another eight years, breaking the record of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who retired at 90 years old. Modern medicine could save her and the others but a Democrat electorate will not.

Next year, Democrats must defend 23 Senate seats. Republicans have to worry about only 5. The margins in the upper chamber might not favor liberals in the next decade, meaning the trio who replaces the aged three probably won’t share the same liberal ideology.

Sure this sort of death clock is grim, ugly, and uncaring. It’s also the underpinning calculus of Supreme Court nominations. So clock’s ticking, Chuck. Choose wisely.

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Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.

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