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What Trump's removal from ballots means for him — practically and politically

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump has been kicked off the primary ballots in Maine and Colorado. Just this afternoon, Trump filed an appeal with the Maine Superior Court. It is also expected that he'll appeal the Colorado decision. Nevertheless, several other states are considering challenges to Trump appearing on their state's primary ballots. All of the challenges are based on the 14th Amendment insurrection clause and argue the likely Republican nominee should be excluded because of his role in the January 6 insurrection. But what could these challenges and decisions mean practically and politically for the former president? Those are questions we're going to discuss with NPR senior editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey - great to be with you, Juana.

SUMMERS: So former President Trump has appealed the Maine decision, and he'll likely appeal the Colorado decision to the Supreme Court, but would these states actually matter to Trump in the general election?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, both have trended Democratic, so they're not exactly swing states. You know, Colorado used to be one, but not anymore, really, with the growth in Denver and its suburbs. Trump did win an electoral vote out of Maine, we should say, in 2016 because they apportion their electoral votes by congressional district, not winner-take-all like most of the other states. And one of those districts does lean to the right. You know, certainly with how close elections have been in this century though, you know, every electoral count votes. But this is really beyond the idea of simply counting electoral votes. You know, it goes to what's fair, you know, and these novel interpretations of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states that no one who had been an office holder can hold office again if they, quote, "engaged in insurrection" or gave aid or comfort to those that did. You know, and this has never been tested, really, legally before, and it's coming at a time when the caucuses and primaries are kicking off in less than two weeks.

SUMMERS: Yeah, that's right. Domenico, I mentioned that there are a couple of states where there are similar challenges. When you think of the fact that any presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win, could former President Trump being kept off the ballot in any of the other states make a difference here?

MONTANARO: Theoretically it could. I mean, you know, there are challenges in swing states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin. But we got to throw a little bit of cold water on the likelihood that Trump is going to be left off the ballot anywhere at the end of the day. You know, Colorado and Maine are in the minority on this right now. Colorado is the only state court that's weighed in on this. Maine's secretary of state, you know, acknowledges herself that, you know, this was only the beginning of the process in her state. You know, the state court there will eventually weigh in. And both states don't have much teeth behind their decisions because they're essentially deferring to the U.S. Supreme Court and calling for it to act. And I have to say, I have a hard time believing this won't be settled by the Supreme Court. The clock is really ticking here.

SUMMERS: I mean, I don't have to tell you this, but the primaries are just around the corner. And, I mean, ballots have to go out to give people time to vote. How does this legal odyssey factor into that?

MONTANARO: I mean, it's potentially a real mess. I mean, ballots are going out soon in all of the states for the primaries. And as people start thinking about the presidential election now in this new year, it really is going to cause a lot of confusion. You know, we've already seen that with Trump's legal problems otherwise, with the multiple criminal counts that he's facing. But this is more tangible, even, than that because this is about whether his name will even be on the ballot in some of these places. And it's already a complicated process. Overseas and military ballots are going to have to be printed and sent out more urgently, dealing with the primaries.

SUMMERS: And we should just remind folks here that these cases, they're separate from the criminal charges that the former president faces in several courts across the country. Domenico, where do those stand?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, they are separate, but they're part of this whole sort of tangled web we've been talking about. You know, those cases are also in limbo somewhat because of delays that we've seen. You know, the name of the game really for Trump's team is delay, delay, delay. They're trying to kick the timeline as far down the road as they can in hopes that we don't see any trial this year. You know, he could win reelection, they hope, and move to have the federal cases, for example, dismissed. The state cases are going to be tougher for him to do that. And a state like Georgia, which has its election interference case, is slated to begin August 5, which could mean an O.J. Simpson-style trial with cameras in the courtroom taking place during the general election. That is, of course, if that trial even starts on time.

SUMMERS: And, Domenico, last thing - about the voters. How is all of this playing with them?

MONTANARO: Well, when I talk to Republicans, I really see what's happening in Colorado and Maine as evidence for Trump's argument that he's been unfairly persecuted, that, you know, these are politically motivated. And it's really quite something because we all saw what happened on TV January 6 three years ago now, and yet a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll out today showed that fewer than 1 in 5 Republicans think that the January 6 protesters were, quote, "mostly violent." And they - that's down eight points compared to three years ago. So it just shows you how much Trump's public relations effort on this has worked in the last three years with his base, why he's only strengthened his hand in the primary and why it's been so hard for any of his Republican rivals to dislodge him.

SUMMERS: NPR senior editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.