What Trump’s 2024 Republican rivals are saying about the Colorado ruling

Dec 20, 2023, 6:48 PM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his family greet guests after speaking at an event in Bettendorf, Iow...

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his family greet guests after speaking at an event in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Dec. 18. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination largely closed ranks around the former president, adding to the broad GOP criticism of the Colorado Supreme Court ruling that he cannot appear on the state’s primary ballot next year.

However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who lambasted the Colorado decision — also used the ruling to call into question whether Trump can win next year, arguing Wednesday morning that nominating the former president would make the 2024 election about “all this legal stuff.”

The responses from Trump’s rivals show the balancing act they face just weeks from the first votes being cast in the GOP nominating contest. Trump’s continued popularity with the party’s base, despite his ongoing legal troubles, means they must defend him while also making their own case that it’s time for the party to move on.

DeSantis, campaigning in Urbandale, Iowa, described the Colorado ruling as a Democratic plot to “solidify support in the primary” for Trump because, the Florida governor asserted, the party sees him as the easiest Republican to defeat in November.

He said other state Supreme Courts could similarly seek to keep Trump off 2024 ballots. Nominating someone else, DeSantis said, would “give us our best chance to be able to win.”

“The whole general election’s going to be all this legal stuff,” he said. “Look, it’s unfair. But the question is, is that going to work? And I think they have a playbook that unfortunately will work. And it will give Biden or the Democrat or whoever the ability to skate through this thing. That’s their plan. That’s what they want.”

DeSantis’ argument about electability is similar to the one many of Trump’s primary rivals have made after his indictments in a New York hush money case, a Georgia election interference probe, and federal investigations into the events around the January 6, 2021, insurrection and his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

The best chance of winning

“Do we want to have 2024 to be about this trial, that case, this case, having to put hundreds of millions of dollars into legal stuff?” DeSantis said Wednesday. “Or do we want 2024 to be about your issues, about the country’s future, with a nominee that’s going to be able to prosecute that case against the left just like I’ve been able to do in Florida?”

“That is a path to winning,” he said.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Trump is constitutionally ineligible to appear on the ballot in next year’s state primary because the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists holding public office covers his conduct on January 6.

While the US Supreme Court will have final say over the matter, the Colorado ruling, on its face, represents a new level of accountability for Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

However, much like his four criminal indictments this year, it could also serve as a boost to his White House comeback bid. Those indictments have energized supporters and led the party’s base to rally around Trump.

The Colorado decision comes less than four weeks from the first contest on the GOP nominating calendar: the January 15 Iowa caucuses. Any rallying around the former president, who has a commanding lead in national and early state primary polls, would leave his Republican rivals with little time to change the race’s trajectory.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would leave to the courts questions about Trump’s eligibility to run for the top office again.

“But he certainly supported an insurrection. There’s no question about it. None. Zero,” Biden told reporters after disembarking from Air Force One in Milwaukee. “He seems to be doubling down on everything.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley arrives for a town hall event in Agency, Iowa, on Dec. 19. (Christian Monterrosa, AFP/Getty Images)

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, said she wants to beat her onetime boss “fair and square,” without interventions such as the Colorado ruling.

She told a crowd Tuesday night in Agency, Iowa, that “the last thing we want is judges telling us who can and can’t be on the ballot.”

“I want to see this in the hands of the voters. We’re going to win this the right way,” she said.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — one of the most strident Trump critics in the 2024 GOP race, who has defended federal prosecutors’ indictment of the former president — said Tuesday that “people in this country deserve to have a trial before rights are taken away from them.”

“Bad for the County”

Even as he acknowledged that his comments might be “counterintuitive” given his long-standing criticism of the former president, Christie said in Bedford, New Hampshire, that it would be “bad for the country” for a court to keep Trump off the ballot.

“I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court. I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters in this country,” Christie said.

He added: “I think it would cause a lot of anger in this country if people had the choice taken away from them. I would rather have them make the choice that he doesn’t deserve it.”

Christie is not the only Trump critic to say that the Colorado Supreme Court had overstepped.

“I strongly oppose Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. But I think this case is legally wrong and untenable,” former US Attorney General Bill Barr, who turned against the former president in the wake of the January 6 insurrection and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, said Wednesday on CNN.

Barr said efforts like the Colorado ruling seeking to knock Trump off the 2024 ballot are “counterproductive” and typically “backfire.”

“He feeds on grievance, just like a fire feeds on oxygen,” Barr said. “This is going to end up as a grievance that helps him.”

Trump tried to stir up those grievances when he misleadingly compared himself to Abraham Lincoln during the 1860 election, saying in a post on Truth Social on Wednesday that Democrats “would not allow a man named Abraham Lincoln to be so much as mentioned in ‘Slave States.’”

“Attack on democracy”

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has aligned himself more closely with Trump than most other 2024 Republican contenders, called the Colorado ruling an “actual attack on democracy” and “election interference.”

Ramaswamy pledged to withdraw from the Colorado GOP primary unless Trump is allowed to be on the ballot.

“Today’s decision is the latest election interference tactic to silence political opponents and swing the election for whatever puppet the Democrats put up this time by depriving Americans of the right to vote for their candidate of choice,” he wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The only GOP candidate to back the Colorado ruling was former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose campaign is built on his opposition to Trump. However, Hutchinson is polling in the low single digits and has not qualified for the past three GOP primary debates — even though he asserted Tuesday night on X that he had predicted the Colorado scenario at the party’s first debate.

“The factual finding that he supported insurrection will haunt his candidacy,” Hutchinson said.

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What Trump’s 2024 Republican rivals are saying about the Colorado ruling