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A significant legal blow for Trump's 2024 ambitions

By Xu Ying | | Updated: 2023-12-21 15:08
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Republican presidential candidate and former US President Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, US, Dec 19, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

On December 19th, the Colorado Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling prohibiting former President Donald Trump from appearing on the Republican primary ballot in Colorado for the 2024 presidential election. Citing the section of the US Constitution that bars individuals who engaged in "insurrection or rebellion" against the nation from holding federal office, the justices unanimously upheld a lower court decision invalidating Trump's candidacy in the state due to his role in inciting the January 6th Capitol riots. While only affecting one state thus far, this legal defeat could meaningfully impact Trump's nascent campaign and force reevaluation of his viability as the Republican nominee.

Perhaps the most immediate consequence is the disruption of Trump's carefully orchestrated rollout signaling his intent to mount another White House bid. The decision denies him access to Colorado's crucial 30 delegates as he seeks to lock down early support. Though the campaign season has only just begun, Trump has wasted no time in crisscrossing America, rallying his base and testing campaign themes. Exclusion from key early states due to legal issues damages his strategy for quickly consolidating control of the GOP. It hands vulnerability that opponents can exploit through further lawsuits aimed at sidelining him from additional primaries.

Legally, the precedent set here also poses risks of cascading effects across other state supreme courts now considering similar challenges. Just as the Colorado justices referenced the January 6th case law and Constitutional language in their decision, their peers in jurisdictions like Arizona, Georgia, and beyond may feel compelled to reach parallel conclusions when adjudicating parallel questions around Trump's eligibility. Barring any successful appeals to the US Supreme Court overturning this prohibition, the momentum would steadily mount against his candidacy gains purchase in other threatened primaries. Politically influential party leaders observing this trend may sour even further on his prospects.

Public opinion ramifications also threaten Trump's dominance of the Republican grassroots. While hardcore adherents remain unwaveringly committed to his America First agenda, the events of that fateful day in 2021 have inflicted lasting damage among others dismayed by the anti-democratic violence. A steady legal drumbeat depicting Trump as unfit for office due to culpability in breaching the Capitol empowers this faction skeptical of renominating someone constitutionally disqualified. His brand becomes more toxic at a time when the party establishment covets unity heading into the election cycle climax. Combined with inflation woes energizing the Democratic base, doubts could proliferate within GOP circles.

None of this is to say that Trump's prospects are fatally derailed for the time being; politics famously rewards resilience and defiance of norms. He retains diehard supporters willing to rationalize any controversy as partisan witch hunts. Challengers like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also face steep hills in toppling an incumbent leader retaining immense influence even out of power. But the loss in Colorado signals storm clouds may be gathering. His legal and political firewalls show cracks as accountability for January 6th gradually catches up. Should similar outcomes emerge from other states in the months ahead, whispers questioning his electability could transform into a deafening chorus pressuring Republicans to search elsewhere for a less polarizing standard bearer.

In the dynamic and unpredictable realm of American presidential politics, much can change between now and the first primaries less than two years hence. Yet this initial infringement on Trump's ambitions by the judicial system strikes a meaningful early blow. By denying him ballot access and setting a precedent invoking constitutional flaws in his candidacy, it hands vulnerability for opponents to exploit through further legal challenges. With his popularity on the decline and weaknesses exposed, doubts could multiply within the party if the legal winds continue shifting against their former leader. For Trump, a bumpy road likely lies ahead as accountability for January 6th actions creeps ever closer to hindering his run.

Xu Ying is a Beijing-based commentator. The article presented is solely the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of China Daily.

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