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How Trump might already be precluded from running for president again

Check out Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presiding as the House of Representatives votes to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection, in this framegrab from video shot inside the House Chamber of the Capitol.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presiding as the House of Representatives votes to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection, in this framegrab from video shot inside the House Chamber of the Capitol.
House TV via REUTERS

Good for the U.S. House of Representatives for impeaching Trump, although it has little impact other than being a symbolic warning to future presidents as to what will be considered impeachable conduct (though inciting a mob to commit a murderous attack on the Capitol seems pretty obviously in that category) and tagging Trump as the only president ever to be doubly impeached (which will be of little consequence, but CNN seemed to mention it every few minutes). And an extra-credit shout-out for the 10 House Republicans who voted for the impeachment, since it obviously wasn’t a hard or dangerous vote for most of the Democrats.

Of course, if the Senate were to convict Trump, he would be disqualified from running for the presidency in 2024. I’d be surprised if that happens, even though Mitch McConnell and quite a few of his minions are obviously sick to death of him. We’ll see if any of them vote that way when their turn comes, but McConnell says that vote won’t come until after Biden is inaugurated.

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As a Constitution nerd, I note that Trump may already have disqualified himself, in a half-assed backhanded way, from running again in 2024. You may doubt the efficacy of my theory, but here it is:

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted and ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War and very directly inspired by that experience,  includes this passage in Section 3:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

If you squint, you’ll see that it names several specific offices from which the covered individuals are banned for supporting an insurrection or rebellion against the United States, and it doesn’t specify the presidency. But it does include any “officer of the United States,” which I would assume means it would cover a former president who had “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or even “given aid or comfort” to such a crime.

I would suggest that the language cited above might already bar Trump from serving in the future as an officer of the United States on the grounds that he either “engaged in” or at least gave “aid or comfort” to those who engaged in a seriously and deadly act of “insurrection or rebellion” and is therefore already barred from running for office again in the United States government.

As unlikely as it is that two-thirds of the Senate would vote to convict Trump for impeachment purposes now, it is even more unlikely that any time within his remaining lifespan Trump will be able secure a two-thirds vote, not just of the Senate but of the House as well, to remove the lifetime ban on Trump from seeking the presidency again.

By the way, if you’re interested, this ban on future office-holding is also embedded in a federal statute, with even better, clearer language to fit Citizen Trump, since it includes anyone who “incites” or (this is hilarious language) “sets on foot” such an insurrection or rebellion. Here’s a full paragraph from “18 U.S. Code § 2383 – Rebellion or insurrection:”

Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

My gut tells that, by 2024, the portion of the electorate hungry for another Trump ego trip for president will be even smaller than it is now. The groups on which Trump relies are almost all shrinking as a portion of the population. Even without being barred by law and the Constitution, I don’t like his chances.

But it may be comforting for some (as it was comforting for me) to note that a serious legal case can be mounted against him becoming president ever again, at least of the United States. I’m not sure how the Proud Boys choose their leaders, but he might have a shot there.