Republicans blast decision to remove Trump from Colorado primary ballot

Attorney Eric Olson, far right, argues before the Colorado Supreme Court, on Dec 6, 2023, in Denver. The court on Dec 19 declared former President Donald Trump ineligible for the White House under the U.S. Constitution’s insurrection clause. [AP Photo]

Many Republicans across the United States have reacted with rage to a 4-3 decision by the Supreme Court of Colorado that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from appearing on the state's 2024 Republican primary ballot because of his involvement with the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The decision has been placed on hold pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that has not prevented many in the party, including some of the former president's opponents in the primary, from assailing the ruling as an undemocratic attempt to take the Republican Party's choice of a presidential nominee out of the hands of its voters.

With Trump's eligibility being challenged in more than a dozen other states, Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel used the social media platform X to denounce the ruling as "election interference."

"This irresponsible ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and our legal team looks forward to helping fight for a victory," she wrote. "The Republican nominee will be decided by Republican voters, not a partisan state court."

Constitutional interpretation

The Colorado court's ruling holds that the Civil War-era 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars Trump from holding federal office. The amendment, ratified in 1870, holds that no person who swears an oath to support the Constitution as part of accepting a position in state or federal government, and then engages in "insurrection or rebellion against the same," is eligible to hold office again.

The amendment was adopted as a means of preventing former civilian and military officials who joined the Confederate rebellion against the Union, betraying their oaths, from holding future office.

The measure had not been invoked in generations before legal scholars recently began making the argument that it applies to Trump, who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution when he was inaugurated in 2017.

They argue that his role in schemes to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to President Joe Biden, and his incitement of the crowd that assaulted the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, amounted to participation in an insurrection against the United States.

Trump claims persecution

Trump, who is currently under criminal indictment in four jurisdictions, in part because of his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, has characterized every effort to hold him accountable for his post-election behavior as part of a concerted plot by his enemies to prevent him from being elected president again.

The former president's campaign surrogates quickly attacked the Colorado decision as partisan, and the campaign immediately began sending out fundraising emails and social media posts highlighting it.

On his social media website Truth Social, Trump on Thursday wrote, "I am not an insurrectionist … Crooked Joe Biden is." He backed up his claim of innocence by referring to the fact that he at one point told the January 6 crowd to protest "peacefully."

In response to reporters on Wednesday, Biden said that in his view, it is "self-evident" that Trump participated in an insurrection. However, he said that whether the 14th Amendment applies to him is a matter for the courts.

Reaction in Colorado

Dave Williams, head of the Republican Party in Colorado, has said that if Trump is not allowed to appear on the primary ballot, the state party will simply decline to hold a primary election and choose a candidate through a caucus process.

"We're going to withdraw from the primary to a strict caucus process that would allow our voters to choose Donald Trump if they want," Williams told a local television station.

The office of the Colorado secretary of state has indicated that it intends to hold a Republican primary regardless of whether Trump is on the ballot and warned that it would take the party to court if it attempted to ignore the result.

Williams was unmoved by the prospect of a lawsuit.

"I'm going to notify [Colorado Secretary of State] Jena Griswold that we don't want to do the primary, so don't send out the ballots," he said. "And if she refuses, then we're going to say, 'OK, fine. We're going to ignore whatever results you cook up, because we don't think it's fair, as long as Donald Trump's off that ballot.' "

Candidate reactions

Most of Trump's remaining opponents in the Republican primary campaign denounced the court ruling as undemocratic and unfair.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy quickly announced that if Trump was indeed stricken from the ballot in Colorado, he would withdraw himself from the contest in solidarity. On X, he called on Trump's other opponents to join him.

"I demand that Ron DeSantis, Chris Christie, and Nikki Haley … do the same immediately — or else they are tacitly endorsing this illegal maneuver which will have disastrous consequences for our country," he wrote.

Former South Carolina Governor Haley, who has been rising in recent polls, told reporters that she did not agree with keeping the former president off the ballot.

"I will beat him fair and square. We don't need to have judges making these decisions," she said. "We need voters to make these decisions."

Bashing 'the Left'

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also used X to register his objection to the Colorado decision, writing, "The Left invokes 'democracy' to justify its use of power, even if it means abusing judicial power to remove a candidate from the ballot based on spurious legal grounds."

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been highly critical of Trump on the campaign trail, calling him unfit for office, nonetheless said he did not want to see the former president barred from any ballots.

Speaking at a New Hampshire town hall event, he said, "I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court."

Christie added, "I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters of this country."

Retaliation in other states

The Colorado decision was seen by many Republicans as inherently partisan rather than the result of objective legal analysis. Although the seven justices on the Colorado Supreme Court are not all Democrats, each one was appointed by a Democratic governor.

By Wednesday afternoon, Republicans in other states were musing about the possibility of removing Biden from the primary ballot in their states.

"Seeing what happened in Colorado makes me think — except we believe in democracy in Texas — maybe we should take Joe Biden off the ballot in Texas for allowing 8 million people to cross the border since he's been president, disrupting our state," Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told Fox News.