As a longtime believer in democracy, I can’t decide how to think about the ongoing trial in Denver to disqualify Donald Trump from the Colorado presidential ballot in 2024.
Not about Trump being on the ballot. I would love for Trump not to be on the Colorado ballot or any other ballot ever again.
I wish enough GOP senators had had the nerve to disqualify Trump from office after either of his impeachment trials.
But what I’d want even more is for the many millions of Trumpists to free themselves from their cult-like devotion to the former president. It’s the undying support of the Trump base that is nearly certain to get him nominated again.
This is how bad it is: I just saw a piece out of Iowa, where Trump is leading the field by nearly 30 points according to a well-respected poll, in which one voter said, “Trump is my hero. Him and Jesus are my heroes.” Trump and Jesus. You’ve seen the photo on social media.
And I’d love for Republican normies — and, yes, they exist even beyond the ranks of the never-Trumpers; some Trump voters are probably reading this column — to concede just how dangerous a second Trump term would be. There is no number scarier or more inexplicable to me than the 74 million votes Trump received in the non-rigged 2020 election.
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So, yes, as a longtime believer in democracy, I believe that the authoritarian-leaning, anti-constitutionalist, bigoted, demagogic Trump is the single greatest threat to the American democratic experiment who has ever been president and who has ever been this close to being president a second time.
In many ways, it would be a very good thing if the court ruled that Trump was ineligible, even if the case would eventually go to the Supreme Court, where it’s nearly impossible to imagine that the Trump-delivered majority would rule against him on a close-call issue.
If you’ve been keeping up with the case, you know that keeping Trump off the ballot is a long shot, but maybe not as long a shot as some think. At least that’s what some of the best legal minds in America believe, although some other pretty good legal minds disagree.
But it’s clearly a legalistic case that depends on how one reads an obscure section of the 14th Amendment, a section written in the aftermath of the Civil War to keep anyone from running for office who had sworn to support the Constitution and then participated in an insurrection or rebellion.
Here’s the section. You don’t have to be a legal scholar to understand its intent. And there’s no argument that the Civil War was both an insurrection and a rebellion.
The question is whether Trump participated in an insurrection on January 6. There are a number of trials that should determine that as a legal point. As a practical point, he obviously did.
And yet, even if Trump is found to have participated, would this trial, brought by current and former Colorado Republicans, really be the best way to determine Trump’s qualification to run for office? There are Trump trials upcoming — and let’s hope they come soon — that wouldn’t rely on a rarely used constitutional issue.
Former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is defending Trump in the Denver District Court case and who is someone with whom I very rarely agree, is making the case that Trump wasn’t part of any insurrection and that he had asked the crowd at his rally — many of whom would take part in assaulting the Capitol — to act “peacefully and patriotically.”
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He suggested Trump didn’t “carry a pitchfork” to the Capitol. That’s true, but maybe only because the Secret Service stopped him from joining the January 6 crowd. Whether or not Trump was armed, he was informed that others in the crowd were.
We know Trump’s speech was also highly inflammatory and that he told those at the rally to “fight like hell.” We saw the fight. We saw police officers overpowered and injured in defending the Capitol. We saw that people died.
We also saw reports from inside the White House that Trump did nothing to stop the violence, despite pleas even from his children.
Yeah, he participated. Not only that, he led. And even now, Trump is promising, if re-elected, to consider pardons for many of those who were arrested and convicted for participating.
But there’s another thing that Gessler said. If there’s a question about Trump’s eligibility, he noted, “the rule of democracy says we err on the side of letting people vote.”
It’s a strong point, even if reading it made me want to laugh out loud. In Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, he tried to throw out votes on legal technicalities (which weren’t legal at all, as judge after judge ruled). In Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, he tried to persuade Congress to accept fake electors — electors who were not chosen by the people — in place of verified electors who were.
In Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, he has led a campaign of election denialism, of misinformation and disinformation, that now sees an election denier as speaker of the House and 70% of Republicans telling pollsters they believe Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.
There has never been an American president who cared less about the democratic process. But what would the 70% of Republicans believe if Trump were to be kicked off the ballot? Too many of them already believe that the criminal trials Trump faces are politically motivated. What would be decided?
Yes, in a democracy, the people should decide, even when they don’t decide the way we’d hope.
And yet, it’s clear that our country’s democracy, which has been shown to be far more fragile than many of us understood, needs to be protected.
And so, I don’t know how I should root. Of course, it doesn’t matter how I root or how you root. We’ve still got the rule of law going for us.
At least for now.
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