Donald Trump's GOP rivals once again compelled to rally to his defense after Colorado ruling
AMES, Iowa (AP) — With less than a month to go before voting begins, Donald Trump 's Republican rivals are once again rallying to his defense, this time after Colorado's Supreme Court ruled to remove him from the state’s presidential primary ballot under the U.S. Constitution’s insurrection clause.
Just as they had following Trump’s successive indictments as he racked up 91 criminal charges, the GOP front-runner’s opponents cast the landmark decision — the first time in history the 14th Amendment has been used to disqualify a presidential candidate and one the former president has vowed to appeal — as inappropriate, a “stunt" and an “attack on democracy.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis charged the court's ruling was a plot to ensure Trump wins the nomination because Democrats view him as the weakest Republican candidate.
“Look, it’s unfair. They’re abusing power, 100%,” he told an audience in Urbandale, Iowa, on Wednesday morning. “But the question is: Is that going to work? And I think they have a playbook that unfortunately will work and it’ll give Biden or the Democrat or whoever, the ability to skate through this thing. That’s their plan.”
The court's ruling once again highlighted a defining dynamic of the GOP primary: While the trail of lawsuits and criminal charges following Trump had been expected to seriously damage his candidacy, they have instead had the opposite effect among Republicans. Primary voters — including many who had been open to backing rival candidates — have rallied around the former president, who has cast himself as the victim of a politically motivated effort by Democratic President Joe Biden and his administration to damage his chief political rival.
“I think that it confirms Americans' deepest suspicions that many of our institutions can be weaponized against them. So it serves as a proof point for the former president,” said Republican strategist Devin O’Malley, who served as communications chief to former Vice President Mike Pence's campaign.
O'Malley noted all of the justices on the Colorado court were appointed by Democratic governors. "On its face this is just so plainly partisan that it only helps him,” he said.
Indeed, even former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fierce Trump critic who has blasted the other candidates for being overly deferential to the former president, slammed the ruling as ill-advised.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to take him off the ballot through the courts," he told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “I think we have to beat him at the ballot box. And that’s the way that that defeat will be most validated by the American people.”
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters Tuesday that the “last thing we want is judges telling us who can and can't be on the ballot.” And entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has cast himself as the heir to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, pledged to withdraw his name from the Colorado GOP primary unless Trump is allowed on the ballot, and demanded DeSantis, Christie and Haley to do the same.
The Colorado Republican Party, however, said he wouldn't have to and the party would instead convert their election from a primary to a caucus if the decision is allowed to stand. The party had previously laid out a contingency plan in which delegates would be chosen at an April 6 state convention instead of a March primary, according to a copy provided to The Associated Press.
The Colorado case is one of dozens of lawsuits that have been filed nationally to disqualify Trump from the ballot under Section 3, which was designed to keep former Confederates from returning to government after the Civil War. It bars from office anyone who swore an oath to “support” the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against it, and has been used only a handful of times since the decade after the Civil War. Trump had won all of the cases until Tuesday night.
Trump faces four criminal indictments, including one in Washington alleging he illegally sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election and fueled the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent the peaceful transition of power.
Many Republicans have long rejected those allegations or suggested Trump's conduct before leaving office didn't break the law.
In an August AP-NORC poll, just 15% of Republicans said they think Trump did something illegal with regard to the Jan. 6 riot, compared with 47% of adults overall. Another 23% of Republicans said Trump did something unethical, but not illegal, while 46% said they think he did nothing wrong.
Several Iowans who came to see DeSantis on Wednesday said they disagreed with the Colorado court's decision and expected it would bolster the former president's support.
“I definitely think it will entrench the Trump supporters, those who have already made up their mind,” said Sean Ealy, 46 of Ellsworth, Iowa, who said he voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “It will be another thing that will be on a list of things of, you know, them attacking Trump and the unconstitutionality of it.”
Ealy said he won’t be supporting Trump in the caucus next year in part because of the prosecutions against him. But the court's decision is “awful” and “unconstitutional,” Ealy said, and “it certainly feels like there’s a vendetta against Trump.”
Roger Fritz, a 57-year-old engineer from Jewell, Iowa, called the decision “bogus” and “wrong” and argued citizens should have the opportunity to vote for any candidate. But Fritz, attending a DeSantis event in Ames Tuesday, said he was concerned Trump’s legal battles would ultimately make him unelectable.
“I don’t agree with it,” he said. “But the other party and those people are hell-bent on putting Trump in jail and I don’t see how he can win if he’s in jail.”
Biden's campaign and White House officials repeatedly declined to comment on the Colorado ruling. That's despite his re-election team ramping up its efforts to highlight Trump's most controversial and radical statements and policy proposals.
“The president is not involved, we’re not involved in this,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “This is a legal process and we’re not involved in this.
But Biden, during a trip to Milwaukee, said there was “no question” Trump was an insurrectionist, saying that’s “self evident. You saw it all.”
“Whether the 14th Amendment applies or not, we’ll let the court make that decision. But he certainly supported an insurrection. There’s no question about it. None. Zero. And he seems to be doubling down on it," Biden said.