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Should Trump Be on the Ballot?

On January 6th, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters gathered on the lawn behind the White House as part of the Save America rally, ready to listen to a series of speeches, including one from then-President Donald Trump. In his speech, Trump urged his followers to “fight,” vowing to “never concede.” In the crowd, chants of “storm the Capitol,” “take the Capitol,” and “invade the Capitol” could be heard. Across the National Mall, a joint session of Congress counted electoral votes, planning to certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Believing Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election to be fraudulent, Trump’s supporters geared up to “stop the steal” and interfere with Congress’s certification of the election results. Within hours, the MAGA supporters on the Ellipse would fulfill their chants, breaching the Capitol defenses and storming the Congressional chambers. As the sun set on the nation’s capital with four lives having been lost, Capitol Police cleared the site of rioters, and Pence called the session back into order. Legal repercussions followed. On January 13th, Donald Trump was impeached by the House for the second time in his presidency (in both instances, he was acquitted by the Senate). In July, the House created a bipartisan Select Committee, chaired by Bennie Thompson (D) and vice-chaired by Liz Cheney (R), to investigate the attack. After examining the events before and during the protest, the Committee decided in their report on December 22, 2022, that Donald Trump played a crucial role in provoking the riot.

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, 41% of Americans want Donald Trump removed from the ballot, citing section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states that “No person shall… hold any office, civil or military, under the United States…who…shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” To them, Trump incited an insurrection on January 6th, thereby disqualifying him from holding office again. However, the question becomes whether Trump’s actions in provoking his supporters meet the definition of the 14th Amendment. Did he genuinely engage in insurrection or merely stand by and allow it to happen?

When analyzing Trump’s actions surrounding January 6th, his word choice during his speech before the Save America rally is critical. The former president’s address was incredibly provocative, including statements such as “Get smart Republicans, FIGHT” and “We fight like Hell, and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Moreover, Trump directly questioned the election, stating that Biden would be an “illegitimate president.” 

Still, Trump never explicitly urged his supporters to invade the Capitol. About the march on the Capitol, Trump said:  “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” (this is the sole instance in which Trump used the word “peacefully.” By contrast, he said “fight” twenty times throughout his address.) Considering the strict definition of the 14th Amendment, Trump’s words never seem to incriminate him for allowing the insurrection, making the case for his removal from the ballot difficult.

However, beyond January 6th, there remains a way in which Trump may be removed from the ballot. In Georgia, the Election of 2020 was incredibly close, with Biden winning by an estimated margin of 11,780 votes. Immediately, Trump questioned this number, claiming that the state election officials had made a mistake. That night, Trump pressured Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State of Georgia, to overturn the results, telling him over the phone, “I just want 11,780 votes.” In the end, Georgia recounted the votes and came to a similar result (some unaccounted ballots were found), confirming Biden as the state’s winner. Trump’s attempt to pressure Raffensperger into overturning the election has come under intense scrutiny, and many argue that his actions in Georgia also violate the 14th Amendment. With legal proceedings underway, this serves as another avenue through which Trump may be taken off the ballot (although the case’s trial date has been repeatedly delayed, and the plaintiff has faced its challenges, including counts being thrown out by the judge). 

In early March, Colorado’s attempt to take Trump off the ballot on account of his actions of January 6th was shot down, with the Supreme Court stating that such a decision can only be made at the federal level. While the case in Georgia remains in the judiciary system, the nation must wait to learn of Trump’s fate, and one can only speculate what will happen. For many, Trump’s actions on January 6th and in Georgia warrant his removal from the Election 2024, as it is apparent that he engaged in insurrection. However, others argue that removing Trump from the ballot is undemocratic, stating that the people should have the right to vote on whether Trump violated the Constitution during the Election of 2020. In truth, the issue is incredibly complex and nuanced, with valid arguments on both sides, making this matter one of the most intriguing things to follow as 2024 develops.

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