Republican candidates defend Trump after Colorado 14th Amendment ruling

"We don't need to have judges making these decisions," Nikki Haley said.

December 20, 2023, 12:47 PM

Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers fell in line behind former President Donald Trump after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled he was disqualified from appearing on the state's primary ballot for inciting insurrection, citing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In a familiar trend, Republicans of all stripes, from Trump backers to Trump skeptics to Trump antagonists, lambasted the ruling, offering the former president a wave of support after the surprise court decision.

"And you see that with the Colorado Supreme Court. I mean, look, if somebody's convicted or something, of some of these things, there was no trial on any of this. They basically just said, what, 'You can't be on the ballot.' I mean, how does that work? What's the limiting principle for that?" asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is trying to catch up to Trump in the GOP presidential primary.

"I don't think Donald Trump needs to be president. I think I need to be president. I think that's good for the country. But I will beat him fair and square. We don't need to have judges making these decisions, we need voters to make these decisions," said former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is rising in the polls but still double digit behind Trump in the primary.

Even former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose anti-Trump message is the cornerstone of his own presidential aspirations, said, "I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court."

And entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has been a vociferous Trump backer even while running against him, said he plans on withdrawing from Colorado's primary ballot in solidary with Trump, challenging his fellow presidential candidates to do the same.

Down the ballot, the reaction was much the same.

New Hampshire Republican Chuck Morse, who is running for governor in the state and endorsed Trump, wrote on X that "what we are witnessing in Colorado is a blatant attempt to end democracy as we know it!"

And on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers decried the ruling as an overstep.

"Today’s ruling attempting to disqualify President Trump from the Colorado ballot is nothing but a thinly veiled partisan attack. Regardless of political affiliation, every citizen registered to vote should not be denied the right to support our former president and the individual who is the leader in every poll of the Republican primary," said Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

The Republican National Committee, with which Trump has had a hot-and-cold relationship, is offering Trump assistance as his team appeals the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. And an RNC official confirmed to ABC News that the state party would be able to change its voting process from a state-run primary to a party-run caucus if it so chooses -- a voting method with which the state would not be able to interfere.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at a rally, Dec. 16, 2023, in Durham, N.H.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

The official told ABC News it's hard to imagine there being much opposition to the move given the widespread condemnation of the Colorado Supreme Court ruling within GOP circles.

But Democrats have been more critical of Trump, with President Joe Biden saying Wednesday that Trump was clearly an insurrectionist but that he'd let the court decide on the 14th Amendment.

"Is Trump an insurrectionist, sir?" ABC News' Karen Travers asked Biden.

"It’s self-evident. You saw it all. Now, whether the 14th Amendment applies, I’ll let the court make that decision. But he certainly supported an insurrection. No question about it, none, zero. And he seems to be doubling down on about everything," Biden said.

The stiff defense by Republicans marks the latest chapter of a familiar story in which Trump faces new legal exposure only to receive nearly universal support from across the Republican Party.

Party supporters and detractors have come out against cases charging Trump with wrongdoing over hush money payments to an adult film star, his alleged possession of classified documents after leaving the White House and efforts to reverse his 2020 loss, both in the form of the riot in Washington, D.C., and alleged pressure campaigns toward election officials in Georgia.

"Criminal charges [are] not just because you may have done something wrong. It's -- did you behave criminally? And I think what we've seen in this country is an attempt to criminalize politics and to try to criminalize differences," DeSantis said in July amid special counsel Jack Smith's investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

It's still unclear if and when the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on Trump's expected appeal, and it's very possible it will restore his access to the Colorado primary ballot.

Still, Trump's presence on or absence from the primary ballot may not matter.

He retains yawning polling leads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and is in a strong position to all but lock up the GOP nomination before Colorado's March 5 primary. And the state isn't particularly competitive in a general election contest, handing President Joe Biden an over 13-point win in 2020.

Similar speculation over Trump's electoral prospects was sparked in August, when the federal trial over Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election was scheduled to start on March 4, 2024, one day before "Super Tuesday" in the GOP presidential primary. The political world was abuzz over the implications -- only for Republican operatives to pour cold water on the idea that Trump could be derailed.

"I get the conversation going into overdrive about Super Tuesday," Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director, told ABC News at the time. "But if Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, then electorally, in the primary, there's no impact because it's locked up at that point."