President Donald Trump warns that removing him from office would “cause a Civil War-like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” He is quoting Robert Jeffress, a prominent evangelical supporter, who also says that Democrats are trying to remove Trump from office because they know they cannot defeat him in an election. But this effort, Jeffress predicts and Trump affirms, will fail.
Trump’s tweetstorm fell on one truth: Impeachment is highly unlikely to lead to his departure from the White House. The reason he is right about that is, however, the reason Jeffress and he are wrong about everything else.
Two-thirds of senators would have to vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial to end his presidency. That high bar explains why no president has been removed from office that way, and only one has resigned rather than face impeachment and a Senate trial. All the Senate’s Democrats and independents, and 20 of its Republicans, would have to vote against Trump for this to be the first such presidential ouster.
To illustrate the challenge, assume that the senators line up based on their ideological records, with the most moderate Republicans abandoning Trump and the most conservative ones sticking by him. In that case, the 67th vote would likely have to come from Jerry Moran of Kansas. Trump would have already had to lose not only critics such as Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, but also Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and some-time defenders Lindsey Graham and Roger Wicker.
Removal could not happen, in other words, without an extremely broad national consensus that Trump has to go. That would have to include a significant percentage of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016. The scenario Jeffress brings up, in which Trump retains so much support that he is poised to win the next election but Congress removes him from office to keep it from happening, is all but impossible.
The pastor says that impeachment and removal would “negate the votes of millions of Evangelicals.” Leaving aside the fact that removing Trump would make an evangelical Christian, Mike Pence, president, the argument again ignores the constitutional structure of impeachment. If 67 senators are prepared to vote for something, it almost certainly would mean that many millions of evangelicals approve of it. Trump’s supporters would need to have dwindled to a hard core, and even some of them would be able to see how badly outnumbered they had become.
There’s a lesson here for Trump’s opponents, too. If they want impeachment to be followed by removal, they are going to have to persuade millions of voters who are currently in his corner. Impeachment can’t be seen as an act of culture-war vengeance — a judgment on voters for being stupid and racist enough to choose Trump — if it is to succeed.
It probably won’t. The possibility that Trump’s removal will be followed by anything like a civil war, though, is one thing we need not worry about.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a senior editor at National Review, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.