Monday, August 21, 2023

The Politics of Disqualifying Trump

Andrew Coan

Ross Douthat has waded into the Section Three conversation, siding with Eric Segall against his fellow conservatives Will Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen. In particular, Douthat worries that "not enough people do clearly see what’s risked in these kinds of proceedings, that many of Trump’s opponents still regard some form of legal action as a trump card." 

I don't agree with all of Douthat's analysis, but I share his core concern, which I expressed in a post on January 12, 2021:

What about the actual politics of invoking Section Three? One possibility, perhaps the most likely, is that a legal bar on future federal office-holding would prevent a third Trump campaign from ever getting off the ground (assuming he has not already taken care of this himself). But there is another, darker possibility. If Trump wants to run again and retains--or regains--the loyalty of his base, such a bar would effectively foreclose a large and highly motivated segment of the American public from pursuing its goals through electoral politics. That is a momentous and highly fraught step for any democracy to take. It is perilously close to banning one of the two major political parties.  

Douthat is strongly skeptical of attempts to invoke Section Three. My own view is more equivocal. Section Three is unpredictable and dangerous, but so are the alternatives. As my original post concluded:

The broader point is a familiar one. No legal strategy, however apparently decisive, is capable of dissolving the dangers inherent in our deep national divide. The only possible solutions are political, though law is a powerful, if double-edged, tool for reshaping our politics. Section Three is one more example. This is not an argument against its invocation, merely for proceeding with our eyes open.

I have changed my mind about many things in the past two years, but there is not much I would change about this post if I were writing it today.

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