He will be removed from office.
Were you expecting a more complicated answer? You shouldn’t have, though I don’t blame you if you did. To hear some folks in the media tell it, we are well on our way towards a second civil war. But that assessment does not reflect the reality that there is no conceivable scenario in which President Trump loses in November, refuses to acknowledge defeat, and maintains enough support within his own party to try to illegally hold onto the presidency.
The GOP has done everything it can to make this clear to everyone within and outside of their party, including Trump himself. Last week, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s resolution reaffirming the Senate’s commitment to honor the results of the election passed with unanimous bipartisan support. A similar resolution was passed in the House this week, with just 5 out of 198 Republicans voting against it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has long exhibited a penchant for acting outside the bounds of conventional ethics, has even gone out of his way to gently disavow the president’s authoritarian antics.
If that’s not enough to convince you of the GOP’s intention to respect the will of the electorate, consider what the party would be risking if they decided to indulge Trump’s dictatorial impulses.
Four years ago, Trump had a lot of very vocal critics within his own party, yet many of those critics now count themselves among the president’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders. One of the reasons that happened is because Republicans recognized a golden opportunity to amass enormous judicial power with President Trump in the White House. To do that, they’ve had to make a few sacrifices—namely their party’s reputation, and some would say its dignity as well—to ensure the president’s loyalists would show up to support him and the GOP at the ballot box in 2018 and 2020.
In exchange for those sacrifices, Republicans have been rewarded with two Supreme Court seats already, and that number will increase to three once soon-to-be Justice Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the Senate. What’s more, Trump has thus far managed to confirm more than 200 federal judges since assuming office in 2016. That number represents roughly one-quarter of all federal judgeships.
A Trump-led takeover of the federal government would render all that newfound power useless. The federal judiciary could not survive the ensuing crisis of legitimacy. Democratic governors and blue state legislatures would refuse to abide by the rulings of Trump-appointed judges, and there’s not much Republicans could do about it. It would be pure judicial chaos, and all the energy the GOP has put into expanding its judicial footprint would go to waste. And for what? Four more years of Trump? There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hades of that happening.
Don’t count on the Supreme Court to bail Trump out, either. It’s entirely possible that this year’s election will be very tight, and that the court may be required to intervene if the results are contested. If that happens, though, the justices aren’t going to hand the presidency to Trump on a silver platter.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ top priority has always been to preserve the court’s legitimacy. If the outcome of the election is ultimately decided by the court, Roberts’ vote will be determined by the demands of the law, not the demands of Trump and his Republican backers.
The same can be said about Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has already broken with his fellow Republican-appointed justices in several cases since being confirmed to the court in 2017. The most notable of those cases is Bostock v. Clayton County, in which he voted to extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ workers, much to the dismay of disapproving social conservatives. Clearly, Justice Gorsuch is not one to let partisan pressure influence his decisions.
Justices Thomas and Alito weren’t appointed by Trump, so there’s no reason to believe that they’d feel obligated to throw their support behind him even if it meant abandoning the duties they swore to execute in good faith. And while Justice Kavanaugh was appointed by Trump, he too has defied conservative expectations on more than one occasion. No one should assume that he’d come riding to Trump’s rescue in the event of a contested election.
There is only one road that Trump can follow back to the White House, and that road runs through the Electoral College. Failing that, he could try to take a detour through the Supreme Court, but the odds of that happening are exceedingly slim. Even if the court is forced to act, it will not hand the presidency back to Trump unless it concludes that that’s what the law requires. The media knows this, but that won’t stop them from perpetuating fears that Trump might find a way to steal the election from Joe Biden.
Ignore them. You have nothing to fear. President Trump will either win this election fair and square or be forced to return to civilian life. Either way, you can rest assured that the next president of the United States will also be the rightful president of the United States, and there’s nothing Trump can do to change that.