Kicking Trump off the ballot could backfire, making him a martyr
In a just and sane world, Trump will never come remotely close to holding elected office ever again.
But that doesn’t mean he should be kicked off the 2024 ballot, or otherwise prevented from putting his name before voters as he bids to return to the White House and wreak further havoc.
That’s a terrible idea, which several misguided California lawmakers took up this week, asking Democratic Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to unilaterally strike Trump’s name from consideration in the March 5 primary.
The notion, resting on legally shaky ground, may enthrall Trump’s critics. It may entice those who rightly worry about what would remain of our democracy if Trump — unbound, unhinged — were restored to power with a voter mandate that not only ignored his dishonesty and bottomless mendacity. but implicitly endorsed it.
However, keeping Trump off the ballot would only serve to further undermine Americans’ flagging faith in our wobbly democracy and strengthen Trump’s self-pitying claims of victimization. It would elevate the execrable ex-president, for all his myriad and many misdeeds, to stand astride the political and moral high ground.
Why would we ever let that happen?
The effort to bar Trump from again being president is rooted in the post-Civil War 14th Amendment and, specifically, a provision stating that political leaders who betrayed their oath and “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States would be disqualified from elected office.
The notion, which surfaced soon after the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, gained currency over the summer after two conservative legal scholars propounded their view that Trump’s incitement of the attack rendered him ineligible for office. Other legal experts, however, disagree, and it may take a U.S. Supreme Court decision to settle the matter.
It’s hard to see the conservative-leaning court ruling against Trump. But Adam Unikowsky, a Washington attorney who clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has said in a lengthy analysis that there is “a non-trivial chance” they might.
Regardless, Trump foes around the country have seized on the theory to seek the former president’s ouster from the ballot in Colorado, New Hampshire and Minnesota, among other states.
On Monday, nine California lawmakers sent a letter to Bonta urging him to use his position to hasten a state court ruling that would keep Trump off the March ballot.
“You are uniquely positioned to proactively seek the court’s opinion to confirm Mr. Trump’s inability to hold office,” the lawmakers, led by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Silicon Valley Democrat, wrote.
A typical lawsuit could take months to yield a decision. However, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Bonta can seek an expedited ruling ahead of the Dec. 8 deadline for deciding which candidates qualify to face voters.
“There is no denying that Donald Trump has engaged in behavior that is unacceptable and unbecoming of any leader — let alone a president of the United States,” a spokeswoman for Bonta said in response to the letter, declining further comment.
There is also no denying that Bonta, who is weighing a 2026 bid for governor, would reap considerable benefit among Democrats if he moved against Trump.
That, obviously, should have no place in his decision.
Beyond that, there are many reasons Bonta and others being asked to excise Trump from the ballot should refuse.
Not least is the fact that such an action — imposing the opinion of judges and partisan elected officials in place of voters — is the very thing that Trump has been excoriated, and indicted, for attempting after losing the 2020 election.
It also bespeaks a certain arrogance, the notion that voters can’t be trusted to make the right decision by rejecting Trump. Or that America’s citizens are like wax figures, with nothing they can say or do about the direction of their country.
Frankly, it’s also a bit too facile. One of the few (admittedly mixed) blessings of Trump’s ignoble reign has been demonstrating the fragility of our democracy, the importance of political involvement and the agency voters have to bring about change.
If people don’t want Trump back in the White House, it’s simple: They should cast their ballots in sufficient number to keep him out. If they’re truly concerned about a Trump restoration, they should knock on doors, reach out on social media, talk to friends and family and make their case against the failed former president.
In short, get politically active over the next 14 months and see to it others are engaged in the 2024 election as well.
The best way to defeat Trump and send him into well-deserved exile — once and for all — is not to turn him into a martyr, spouting empty and self-serving claims about the “big, beautiful” victory he would have won if only he’d had the chance.
It’s to beat him once again soundly, unmistakably and irrefutably at the ballot box.
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