After the Colorado Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Donald Trump can’t appear on his party’s primary ballot, the state’s Republican Party announced their “plan B” should the former president’s appeal not go his way. If the US Supreme Court upholds the state-level decision, the Colorado GOP plans to abandon the primary and hold a caucus.
Can the Party Trump the State?
Per the court’s ruling, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold “may not list President Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, nor may she count any write-in votes cast for him.” However, this ruling only addresses the primary, and there are other ways to keep Trump’s name front and center in the general election. First, of course, is the fact that the order will be stayed as soon as Mr. Trump files his appeal to the US Supreme Court, putting the former president back on the ballot pending the High Court’s decision. The Trump legal team has until January 4 to do so, and NBC News reports that he plans to wait until after Christmas, citing “a source with knowledge of the Trump team planning.”
But even if the case doesn’t go their way, Colorado Republicans have another plan: cancel the GOP presidential primary. The state’s party chair, Dave Williams, explained that if Trump isn’t on the ballot, they will ask for the primary to be canceled and hold a caucus instead. Should the secretary of state refuse, Williams explained, “we will ignore the primary.”
To briefly define the terms, primaries and caucuses are just two ways of accomplishing the same goal: allocating state delegates to represent candidates in party policy decisions and, of course, vote on the party’s nominee for the general election.
In a primary, voters submit a ballot just as if they were voting in the general election. Caucuses are a bit different. Some choose candidates by secret ballot and others require participants to form groups according to the candidate they support. Each candidate’s group gives speeches and tries to get others to join them. When it’s all done, the number of delegates for each candidate is based on the number of caucus votes they get.
By going to the caucus method, the party can work around the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that Trump can’t appear on the primary ballot. But can the Republican Party do that? In a word, yes.
Primary vs Caucus: Making the Swap
Political parties aren’t required to honor the popular vote in a primary. Remember when the New York Democratic Party canceled the 2020 presidential primary, effectively removing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) from the board suspiciously soon after the self-declared socialist asked to remain on the ballot?
This led many – including Liberty Nation’s Joe Schaeffer – to speculate the Democratic National Committee might pull the old switcheroo by dropping Biden and appointing someone like then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to run against Trump in the general. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that didn’t happen – but it could have.
As for making the swap, this isn’t as simple as merely stating that it’s going to happen. The first step would be for the party to request a waiver from the Republican National Committee to allow the state party to change over to a caucus. Williams predicted that he would approach the RNC to start the process in “a week or two.”
The RNC could deny this request. However, part of the primary plan the national committee approved for Colorado back in October contained a “contingency” that such a waiver could be requested should Trump be taken off the ballot. And a Colorado caucus would be nothing new; the state used this method for decades, swapping in 2020 to the primary.
After that, the Colorado secretary of state would have to agree not to hold the GOP primary. Perhaps the party can circumvent this, but the seemingly inevitable conflict is bound to end up in court as well.
The Time Crunch
The Colorado GOP primary is scheduled for March 5, 2024, and the statewide caucuses for other offices will be held on March 7. In order to meet this deadline, a lot of things have to happen in a short window of time. Though state party leadership is planning to begin the waiver process soon, the former president reportedly won’t be appealing the Colorado Supreme Court ruling until after Christmas. Then the US Supreme Court has to decide the issue – or whether to even take it up at all. Mr. Trump is back on the ballot as soon as he appeals, and will remain so if he wins at the High Court – but if he loses, there might not be much time to make the change.