Impeached or excluded from the polls: for Trump, bad news consolidates support


It could be weeks to learn whether the Colorado Supreme Court's decision declaring Donald J. Trump ineligible to be on the state primary ballot will stand.

But its short-term political impact became clear when Trump stepped off a stage Tuesday night in Iowa, where he learned of the ruling shortly before a scheduled campaign rally was to begin.

The former president's allies posted on social media that the ruling was an outrage that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to rectify.

Colorado's high court determined that Trump had incited an insurrection on January 6, 2021, and should be excluded from the ballot under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Trump could remain on the ballot anyway (Colorado judges put their decision on hold because appeals are likely to continue), but Trump's team barely dwelled on that detail.

Even if Trump remains on the ballot, any court that found Trump incited an insurrection will be used against him in a general election, in ways his advisers know could be damaging. But the Republican primaries are different. Officials from Trump's rival Republican campaigns privately feared the decision would be seen as an overreach by Democrats, which could reinforce their current lead among Republicans in the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses and in the primaries immediately afterward. after.

For years, events that would frustrate other politicians have, at best, slowed Trump's progress, with the notable exception of his 2020 election loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr. Throughout 2023, Trump has exploited as political fodder events that would have sunk other candidates, such as being charged four times, with 91 felonies, with a Republican electorate that has been told that Democrats are threatening their way of life.

Since March, Trump has perfected a playbook of victimhood, raising campaign funds with each impeachment and encouraging Republican officials to defend him. Many, including some who fear Trump's control over the party's core voters, have agreed.

Democrats and the comparatively few Republicans who want Trump stopped have described his criminal legal troubles as his own doing and have tried to highlight the details of the crimes he is accused of committing. They vary widely and include charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States with months of election lies aimed at subverting the transfer of power, as well as charges stemming from mishandling of classified documents.

But Trump has repeatedly collapsed all of those cases into what he has called a “witch hunt,” aimed at stopping his candidacy rather than holding him accountable. He and his allies are already incorporating the Colorado ruling into that same narrative.

Even people who don't like Trump intensely feared that the ruling to kick him off the ballot would simply help him with a Republican electorate that will see him as interfering with the election, at a time when Democrats regularly describe Trump as a threat. to democracy.

“This justifies their insistence that this is a political conspiracy to interfere with the election,” Ty Cobb, who worked as a lawyer in the Trump White House and who has since condemned his behavior, told CNN. “That's the way he's trying to sell this,” added Cobb, who scoffed at that claim of a broad conspiracy but nonetheless predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court could unanimously overturn the Colorado ruling.

The Trump campaign emailed that portion of the interview.

“REMOVED FROM THE BALLOT – FIGHT AGAINST!” was the subject of a second fundraising email sent by Trump later that night.

Trump said nothing about the ruling at his rally in Iowa, while Republicans filled the void in his favor. His Republican opponents, the few remaining in a once-crowded field, were once again forced to walk around the man they are trying to beat.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is mocked daily by Trump's team for his footwear and who has fought to replace the former president as the next generation of the MAGA movement, may well have been articulating Trump's own defense in his statement.

“The left invokes 'democracy' to justify its use of power, even if that means abusing the judiciary to remove a candidate from the polls based on spurious legal grounds. SCOTUS should back off,” DeSantis wrote in a social media post.

Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor whose central message has been that Trump is unfit for office, said voters, not courts, should decide whether he is president. Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who has made significant gains in recent polls, made a similar statement.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the most openly pro-Trump candidate of all the candidates this cycle, said he would withdraw from the Colorado ballot unless Trump is reinstated.

Trump's team is confident that this restoration will occur. Privately, several of his advisers agreed with Cobb's assessment that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up his appeal and side with him. It remains to be seen if that happens or if the judges decide to leave the ruling in force. If they do the latter, similar lawsuits will most likely be filed in other states, although several 14th Amendment lawsuits have already failed elsewhere.

Regardless of the final outcome, Trump's team, blindsided by Tuesday's ruling, made quick work of trying to turn it into another galvanizing moment of victimhood. His approach echoed something Trump's oldest mentor, the ruthless lawyer and fixer Roy M. Cohn, who fought prosecutors, once said.

“I bring out the worst in my enemies,” Cohn once told columnist William Safire, “and that's how I get them to defeat themselves.”

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