In order to understand the Republican Party today, you have to understand religion. Donald Trump may be the most unreligious president ever — an undisciplined force of corrosive evil. And yet he tweets comparisons to himself as the Messiah and bullies his way around the world with the blind support of white evangelical Christians.
But the one religious faith that is the most heavily Republican is also somewhat disgusted with Trump. Barely half the members of the American-grown Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approve of his presidency.
And therein lies the best chance, though it’s very much a long shot, to remove Trump from office. Wait! Mormons — forged from a polygamous theocracy in the Rocky Mountain West, tainted by decades of institutional racism and still very much opposed to marriage equality — to the rescue of the Republic? Maybe.
We know that the rule of law, the Constitution’s granting of “the sole power of impeachment” to the House, is toilet paper to many congressional Republicans. When Trump said Article II of our governing blueprint “allows me to do whatever I want,” and almost no members of his party begged to differ, you could see what was ahead. Banana Republicans rule.
Expelling Trump will be decided by appeals to our better angels. At this moment, those angels with the most influence are Mormons with an R on their jerseys. Mormons believe that the Constitution, which doesn’t mention God except in the document’s date, to be divinely inspired.
And yes, that means our nation turns its lonely eyes to Mitt Romney, the Utah senator, former Republican presidential nominee and most prominent face of his faith on the planet. In order to understand Romney you have to understand his Mormon beliefs.
With their missionary experience, and a fast-growing Latino membership, Mormons are appalled at Trump’s anti-immigrant cruelties. On family values, many of them actually walk the talk — which explains why just 14% of Utah voters viewed Trump as a good role model.
I would say “We are all Mitt Romney now” after he was scorched by Trump for lashing out at the president’s gangster foreign policy. Except that Romney himself famously said that 47% of Americans are moochers who would never vote for him for president. Irony alert: Romney ended up with 47% of the popular vote.
And it was another Mormon senator, the unfortunately named Jeff Flake of Arizona, who led an earlier charge against Trump. This week, Flake, who has since left the Senate, tweeted, “Fellow Republicans, where is the line?”
That will be the central question before the Senate. It would take 20 Republicans, along with everyone in the Democratic caucus, for the Senate to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump. The winless New York Jets have a better shot at the Super Bowl.
The political calculation will guide some, but not all. There are already breaches in the Fox News firewall, and a stunning 28% of Republican voters in one recent poll favor the impeachment inquiry.
Playing to the larger moral issues is where the Mormon charge will be crucial. Another Mormon senator, Mike Crapo of Idaho, has kept an open mind thus far. And an independent presidential candidate from 2016, Evan McMullin, has been a principled Mormon critic of Trump’s lawlessness.
“Remember that Trump will tear down anyone who rightfully challenges him,” McMullin said this week. “Unable to lead with honor, all he has left is to make everyone seem as rotten as he is.”
The rot among the collaterally rotten is already deep. White evangelicals — having looked the other way while the Stable Genius, showing his “great and unmatched wisdom,” put kids in cages, praised neo-Nazis, sucked up to murderous dictators and betrayed our beleaguered allies the Kurds — are gone, lost to the dark side.
Most despicable of all, Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress has suggested that impeaching Trump could cause a “Civil War-like fracture” in the country. Jeffress has also said terrible things about Jews, Mormons and Catholics — the kind of hate talk that has not kept him from being one of Trump’s closest evangelical advisers.
You have to believe that most Republicans in Congress know Trump has violated his oath of office. But most of them are also cowards. That goes for some Mormon Republicans, such as Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a former Trump critic, now an enabler. For them, the old line from J.R. Ewing is apt: “Once you give up your integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.”
Romney has never caved, though he nearly joined the Trump administration as secretary of state. In 2016, he called Trump “a fraud” whose promises “are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.”
With Trump’s Ukraine betrayals, Romney has signaled that he will be a ballast of conscience for Republicans in the Senate. His seat is safe till 2024. He has nothing to lose. At long last, he has a chance to make history — for his faith, and his country.
Timothy Egan, a contributing Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, won the National Book Award for his history of people who lived through the Dust Bowl, “The Worst Hard Time.”