Judges have just given Donald Trump exactly what he wanted

The Colorado ruling that the former president is ineligible under the constitution to hold office again may not please him, but who cares? Not Trump: he’ll play the victim and weaponise it with his base – and create more of the chaos he thrives on

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 20 December 2023 13:16 GMT
Donald Trump disqualified from Colorado's 2024 ballot

Suddenly we seem to have moved from “can Trump win?” to “can Trump stand?” – and a troubled world watches as the United States, arsenal of democracy and shining city on a hill, turns in on itself once again.

The decision by the Colorado Supreme Court that Trump is ineligible under the American constitution to hold office again, and therefore should be removed from the state’s presidential primary ballot, is a brave and a momentous one. It’s on the legally debatable grounds that Trump is an insurrectionist under terms of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Passed after the civil war and obviously aimed at any ambitious secessionists, it states: “No person shall be a senator or representative in Congress, or elector of president and vice-president or hold any office, civil or military ... who... shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” It concludes: “But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Congress isn’t going to vote to remove that disability; but the Supreme Court, with three Trump-appointed justices out of nine, might.

Given that Trump hasn’t yet been convicted of insurrection over the events of January 6, they might plausibly strike down the Colorado case for that or other reasons.

For now, and if the Colorado judgment survives, it would make it much more difficult (even impossible) for Trump to become president again after next November’s election. But that still won’t stop him.

For while it would make him lose momentum, and a few votes, as the primaries get under way next spring – he’s so far ahead of the other candidates that Colorado alone will make little real difference.

It is true that he would lose any possibility of winning Colorado’s admittedly modest 10 votes in the electoral college when the election arrives – which might be important in a tight contest – and the bigger danger is if other states follow the Colorado example, which would leave his election run futile. Trump is clearly up for an appeal – which is a risk, because the Supreme Court may end up effectively barring him from standing for election, taking office, or both.

For Trump, though, it’s more of a win-win. For that is the unique characteristic of this rogue politician – virtually any development may be turned to advantage, and, if not, he can content himself with a suitable alibi for failure.

Despite it being a time when the nation – and the world – yearns for peace and stability, the greatest power on earth, America, could once again be plunged into a Trumpian hell.

How? Well, if the Colorado decision is struck down, then he can claim vindication and make his run. If the Supreme Court effectively bans him from running then he and his fanbase have a more than satisfactory excuse for not winning – and would call that, once again, a “vast conspiracy” at work to threaten the will of the people.

It would be ugly – and, ironically, may result in another attempt at insurrection. You might well wonder what the Kremlin, Beijing, the ayatollahs and Hamas would make of an American political system self-poisoned and paralysed in such a fashion once again.

One thing we have learned over the past decade or so is that no one really knows what goes on inside Trump’s head – possibly including himself. It can change from week to week, moment to moment. There were seemingly well-attested reports that he neither expected nor particularly wanted to win against Hilary Clinton in 2016, and only wanted to use the campaign to boost his profile, business interests and ego.

He was certainly an insurrectionist in 2020 – and probably knew he’d lost the election – but may have convinced himself, as some people can, that the opposite was true. He is capable of holding two diametrically opposed views in his mind at any given time, and think them both legitimate and authentic – a rare but useful quality for a barrister or politician. And Trump has a general tendency to fantasy when the facts are unpalatable.

In other words, and despite the energy put into the campaign, he may only be running for president now to postpone resolution of his many legal difficulties. He may want to win the election for that reason more than any other – but a ready excuse for failure is always welcome.

The Colorado decision may not please him, but he can play the victim and weaponise it with his base – and use it as yet another way to further confuse the complex legal scraps he’s embroiled in. Chaos suits him.

In any case, it’s just worth saying that the best thing – for America and the world – would be if Trump started to lose some ground to the one credible candidate who could wrest the Republican nomination from him: Nikki Haley. It would end the Trump nightmare at last. Aside from the Trump fanatics, the party knows, though it’s frightened to admit it, that Trump is a proven loser, and he remains the one Republican candidate that Joe Biden can beat in November.

Sooner or later, that consideration will surely begin to change a few minds. It may seem almost impossible now, but the next few months could well prove momentous – if not revolutionary – for the Republicans... and by no means just in Colorado.

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