The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that Donald Trump is ineligible to be on the presidential ballot under the 14th Amendment sent shockwaves through political circles on Tuesday and jolted the somewhat sleepy Republican presidential primary less than a month before the Iowa Caucus.
The court’s decision that the former president can’t be on the ballot because he committed insurrection led to a flurry of criticism from Republicans — including those running against him — and, above all, a firm prediction from pundits that the ruling will actually help Trump’s chances in the Republican primary. The general election, however, could be a different story.
Ruling feeds into Trump’s political prosecution narrative
Trump has repeatedly cast himself as a victim of political prosecution, and this perceived assault is equivalent to “an early Christmas present,” The Los Angeles Times’ political columnist wrote. Trump has continuously cashed in on perceived setbacks, including his multiple criminal indictments, and even his biggest critics fear the ruling will only help him in the Republican primary, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman wrote. He already sent out a fundraising pitch over the ruling, as some Democrats fear it could strengthen Trump’s claim that the left is engaging in election interference against him, NBC News reported.
SCOTUS will get the final say
The Trump campaign has already vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to take up the case. Given the court’s current conservative bent, pundits predict the justices will likely side with Trump. “When the Supreme Court overturns Colorado’s verdict, it will hand Trump the most indisputable evidence in favor of a claim he and his supporters have long argued,” Noah Rothman argued in National Review. David Frum countered in The Atlantic that SCOTUS could instead give Republicans an off-ramp from Trump by upholding the ruling, “in time to let some non-insurrectionist candidate win the Republican nomination and contest the presidency.”
Ruling may help Trump in the primary, not in the general
The rewards Trump reaps from the ruling may, however, be limited to the Republican primary. A court ruling that Trump committed insurrection could be used against him in the general election against Joe Biden, Haberman acknowledged, “in ways his advisers know could be damaging.” More controversy is not necessarily “a clear political benefit for him,” Politico wrote. Biden has criticized Trump’s fitness to be president and cast him as a threat to democracy. When asked about the ruling Wednesday, the president didn’t comment on whether it had legal merit, and quickly pivoted to say that Trump “certainly supported an insurrection. There’s no question about it.”