Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to reporters outside of the US Capitol on September 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.
CNN  — 

It’s hard to dream up a worse scenario for Democrats.

They spent months openly fighting among themselves about the cost and parameters of the social spending bill known as Build Back Better.

Liberals said they wouldn’t vote for a separate infrastructure bill unless they had absolute assurances that moderates in the Senate – namely West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – would, eventually, vote for the broader (and more expensive) BBB measure.

They did so only reluctantly following President Joe Biden’s publicly expressed confidence that a deal would get done.

The bill then went to the Senate for what wound up being a very extended public debate in which the same old rifts between moderates and liberals were exposed.

Then, on Sunday, Manchin killed the bill.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” he said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”

It was an abrupt and disastrous end for a bill that, in no small measure, contained the bulk of the Biden agenda for his first term in office.

Not only do Democrats have zero to show for what has dominated debate – in Congress and nationally – for months on end, but they have also either created or exasperated several major political problems in the process:

1) Every House Democrat – save Rep. Jared Golden of Maine – voted for the Build Back Better bill. That includes plenty of moderates and other members in swing seats who now have to a) own any and all negative aspects of the bill without b) reaping the political benefits of the more popular elements of the legislation. That walk-the-plank vote is just the sort of thing that leadership tries to avoid. If a vulnerable member is going to cast a tough vote, then you want to ensure that it’s not going to just wither on the vine in the Senate – leaving those members hanging out to dry.

2) Distrust between Democrats in the House and Senate, liberals and moderates and the White House and Manchin is now at all-time highs. “If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement issued in the immediate aftermath of Manchin’s announced opposition to the BBB. Others, like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, lashed out at Manchin: “[Manchin is] gonna have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.

3) Biden looks weak. Remember that so much of liberals agreeing to vote for the infrastructure bill without the social safety net legislation having already passed was dependent on their trust in Biden – and that he could find a way to make a deal with Manchin as well as Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. This was, after all, at the core of Biden’s promise when he was elected, that he – thanks to decades of experience in the Senate and as vice president – was uniquely positioned to land big deals for the country. But, in retrospect, it appears as though Biden badly misjudged the situation. In an interview with West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval on Monday morning, Manchin said Democratic leaders knew where he stood all along. “I was at $1.5 from the beginning,” Manchin said. “I gave (Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer exactly the philosophical beliefs and the amount of money that I thought we could raise and pay for everything. So they’ve had that from Day 1, on July 2020, of this year. He’s had that.”

And it’s important to remember that Democrats – led by Biden – didn’t start this whole debate from a position of strength, politically speaking. Biden’s approval numbers were on the way down and most nonpartisan analysts were predicting that Democrats would likely lose at least their House majority next November.

They end this debacle in 2021 in far worse shape. The coronavirus is raging yet again. Biden’s approval numbers are even lower. Retirements from within the Democratic ranks are coming fast and furious.

It’s all bad for Democrats. And it’s hard to imagine how these last few months could have gone any worse for the party in power.