On the trail: Former NH GOP Senate candidate working to knock Trump off ballot


For the Monitor

Published: 09-01-2023 9:26 AM

New Hampshire is once again in the 2024 spotlight, but this time it has nothing to do with the frequent campaign stops in the longtime first-in-the-nation presidential primary state by the numerous White House contenders.

Instead, New Hampshire’s grabbing plenty of national attention due to long-shot efforts by some Republicans to boot former President Donald Trump off the primary ballot.

And despite being a vocal GOP Trump critic, Gov. Chris Sununu is staying away from the attempts to derail Trump in the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the Republican presidential nominating calendar.

Bryant “Corky” Messner, an attorney and prominent New Hampshire Republican who won the 2020 Republican U.S. Senate nomination thanks in great part to Trump’s support, is considering a lawsuit if Trump later this year files to put his name on the state’s presidential primary ballot.

In a series of interviews over the past week, Messner questioned the former president’s eligibility to run for the White House, and cited Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. That section disqualifies those who’ve taken an oath to support the Constitution from holding office again if they’ve “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. “or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

Sununu has repeatedly argued the former president — the current commanding front-runner for the Republican nomination — can’t win next year’s general election. The governor has teamed up with many of Trump’s rivals as they campaign in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP nominating calendar. And Sununu, who for months flirted with his own White House run before announcing in June that he would pass on launching a campaign, has repeatedly said he’ll endorse a presidential candidate ahead of his state’s primary.

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But he’s staying away from Messner’s efforts to boot Trump from the primary ballot.

“The Governor is not making any attempt or assisting any effort to keep anyone off the ballot. He has not spoken to and has nothing to do with Mr. Messner’s actions,” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in a statement.

Vihstadt added that “providing he follows the same rules as all other candidates, the Governor doesn’t expect ballot access will be a problem for the former president.”

Starting last November, when Trump launched his third straight White House campaign, there have been suggestions of invoking the 14th Amendment to keep him off the ballot. But with his recent indictments in federal court and in Georgia on charges he attempted to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, the push has gained momentum.

A legal advocacy group that had previously targeted controversial Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and then-Rep. Madison Cawthorne of North Carolina over ballot qualifications this summer sent letters to elections officials in nine states asking them to keep Trump from the ballot.

Some legal scholars have also advanced the argument. Among them are William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen of the conservative Federalist Society, who made their case in the Pennsylvania Law Review.

“This article presented a very, very, compelling analysis that in fact Donald Trump is disqualified from being on the ballot,” Messner told this reporter in an interview this week.

He said the article motivated him to take action, adding “the Constitution needs an advocate in this situation so that’s why I decided to jump into the fray.”

“My position is that it’s in everybody’s interest — including Donald Trump’s interest — to get this thing into the court system as quickly as possible [to provide legal guidance] and hopefully in front of the Supreme Court on an expedited basis,” he said.

Messner met last Friday, Aug. 25, with New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, who oversees elections in the Granite State.

Scanlan is seeking legal input from the state Attorney General’s Office.

“The Attorney General’s Office is now carefully reviewing the legal issues involved,” read a joint statement on Tuesday from state Attorney General John Formella and Scanlan.

The statement also spotlighted “misinformation asserting or implying that the Secretary of State’s Office has already taken a position on or is seeking to take certain action with respect to Donald Trump’s candidacy.”

Scanlan and Formella issued their statement as the Secretary of State’s Office was flooded with calls after Charlie Kirk — a Trump ally and conservative talk show host who runs the right-wing nonprofit Turning Point USA — incorrectly told listeners that New Hampshire was trying to keep Trump off the ballot.

“Neither the Secretary of State’s Office nor the Attorney General’s Office has taken any position regarding the potential applicability of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to the upcoming presidential election cycle,” the statement said.

Messner’s move is getting pushback from the New Hampshire GOP.

State party chairman Chris Ager told this reporter that “Corky is a friend and I respect his opinions and judgment, but I totally disagree with him on this issue.”

“I have communicated with Secretary Scanlan and I’m confident that all the current people listed as presidential candidates — I’m very confident that all of them, should they apply — would be on our ballot,” Ager added.

Ager said that “we will stay in contact with the secretary and if there is a lawsuit, I would expect that the party would do whatever it had to do to intervene on the side of allowing candidates to be on the ballot and not denying anyone.”

John Anthony Castro — a Texas-based attorney who’s running an extreme long-shot bid for the GOP presidential nomination — in a separate move earlier this week filed a lawsuit in Merrimack Superior Court that aims to keep Trump off the primary ballot. Castro confirmed his intentions in an interview with WMUR-TV.

Ager, commenting on Castro’s lawsuit, said on Wednesday that the New Hampshire GOP “will intervene on behalf of the Republican voters of New Hampshire to ensure that they have a full choice on the ballot.”

Asked about the efforts in New Hampshire and in other states to keep the former president off the ballot, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung argued in a statement that “the people who are pushing this political attack on President Trump are stretching the law beyond recognition much like the political prosecutors in New York, Georgia, and DC. There is no legal basis for this effort except in the minds of those who are pushing it.”

But some of Trump’s rivals for the nomination disagree.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson spotlighted at last week’s first GOP presidential nomination debate that “over a year ago, I said that Donald Trump was morally disqualified from being president again as a result of what happened on Jan. 6. More people are understanding the importance of that, including conservative legal scholars.”

“I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony, or who is disqualified under our Constitution,” Hutchinson added, as he received both boos and cheers from the audience at the debate, a Fox News-hosted showdown in Milwaukee.

Busy campaign dance card

First-time candidate and multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy returns to New Hampshire on Friday for four days of campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination. On his packed itinerary is a 1 p.m. Saturday visit to the Hopkinton State Fair and a 3:15 p.m. stop at Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett.

Former Vice President Mike Pence campaigns in the Granite State on Monday through Wednesday, including a 1:30 p.m. stop on Labor Day at Granite State Baptist Church Smokeoff in Concord, and an 11 a.m. town hall on Wednesday at New England College in Henniker.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who later served as ambassador to the United Nations, campaigns in the state Tuesday and Wednesday. And Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina returns to New Hampshire on Thursday.