To preserve, protect, and defend: A president’s most important promise is to defend the Constitution

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
January 7, 2023

The founders of the American republic included some of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and politically aware leaders in all political history. They had been students of history and government, had won a revolution, and now they were forgers of a new political order. They were also eloquent statesmen who understood the importance of words.

They saw both the danger and the necessity of a chief executive, and they invested the presidency with incredible power, even as they divided power into three independent branches. They debated the precise language of the Constitution with vigor, and they carefully constructed an oath of office that distilled the stewardship of a president into just a few powerful words, found in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Constitution is not a sacred document, but it does demand a sacred commitment, which is why almost all presidents have ended their taking of the oath with the words, “so help me God.”

The U.S. Constitution is the longest-serving written constitution in world history, and it has primacy over all justices, legislators, and presidents in this nation. Each constitutional officer takes an oath to defend the Constitution, and the president’s oath is the most important of all, for the danger—and the duty—of the presidency is greater than all others.

That’s why recent comments made by the 45th president of the United States should be of concern to all Americans. Continuing to claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent, he stated on his social network, Truth Social: “A massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

Let’s be clear: Those words are a direct contradiction of the presidential oath of office. And those words were declared by a former president, and a man who has announced that he will run for the nation’s highest office yet again. Donald Trump has demonstrated a recklessness throughout his adult life that is now translated into a political recklessness without historical parallel. He is also one of the few men—only 45 in the nation’s history—who have taken the presidential oath of office. He now calls for terminating the Constitution.

Trump’s ardent defenders protest that we cannot be sure what the former president meant. Well, we can read plain words, and those words represent the proposed end of our constitutional order. Furthermore, Mr. Trump has had plenty of time to make a clear correction or retraction. No such correction has been forthcoming. His response, thus far, amounts to the claim that he didn’t say what he said. But he said it, for all the world to see.

The list of presidents who have tested constitutional limits would be long, but the list of current or former presidents who have called for the termination of the Constitution is short—one man in our nation’s history.

In my view, Joseph Biden is a deplorable president, who must be replaced. Conservatives need a candidate who will affirm without reservation that we must conserve our constitutional order if we are to conserve any of our political principles. True conservatives do not call for the Constitution of the United States to be terminated, but for it to be respected and for the massive powers of government to be restrained. The writing and ratification of the Constitution were great conservative victories. The Constitution is not perfect, but it is all that restrains our government from transforming itself into a leviathan state that will crush all liberties.

Some on the right have argued that former President Trump is merely responding to the Left’s continual breaking of rules and crushing of norms. Well just understand that such a claim descends quickly into sheer nihilism and a bloody battle for raw power. If there are now no rules, there are now no rules. If the Constitution is not in full force, then all that remains is a battle for (temporary) political supremacy. That marks the end of the American order.

Conservatives need and must demand a standard-bearer who will defend the Constitution, not threaten to terminate it. Mr. Trump’s manic recklessness is a setup for electoral disaster. Recent election cycles have made that fact abundantly clear. Conservatives need a candidate who can win an election, not keep fighting a vain crusade against the last one. Conservatives are in an impossible situation if the best defense of the former president is that he didn’t mean what he said. There is no way forward for a candidate who contradicts the oath of office, even as he declares a candidacy for it. This is a form of recklessness that is incompatible with service as president of the United States.

President Trump marked his greatest political achievement by using his constitutional power as president to appoint three justices to the Supreme Court who are committed to upholding the text and authority of the Constitution. That same Constitution gave him that authority and he exercised it brilliantly, changing history.

But there is another Donald Trump, marked by naked political self-interest and moral recklessness. That recklessness has now been translated into words that intentionally subvert the Constitution. This is also a subversion of conservatism. You simply cannot contradict the oath of office just after you demand that voters allow you to take it yet again. It is by no means conservative to call for the Constitution to be put on pause when we feel we have adequate cause. That would spell the end of conservatism in America. And the end of the Constitution would mean, in a very real sense, the end of America.

This article originally appeared at WORLD Opinions on December 7, 2022.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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