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CLARENCE PAGE: This time Trump makes the election stakes unusually high

What a week. In a prebuttal to President Joe Biden’s prime-time “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” speech, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called on the president to “apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists.”

McCarthy was upset by the way Biden said in a Delaware fundraiser that the “extreme MAGA philosophy” in the Republican Party’s Trump wing is “like semi-fascism.”

I say, if the shoe fits, wear it. Like Biden, I know that all Republicans are not MAGA-red-to-the-bone Trump loyalists. But quite often it’s hard to tell the difference.

Look, for example, at how polls and right-wing pundit chatter was revealing some ambivalence in Trump’s supporters about whether it was time to move on to some other rising party stars such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That sentiment quickly faded when the court-sanctioned FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home for national security documents immediately triggered a surge in loyalty to the Big Donald himself.

“I want to be very clear,” Biden said. “Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans.”

I agree. But Trump’s support remain so strong in party ranks that sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.

That fierce loyalty seemed to embolden Trump this past week as he unleashed a 24-hour tweetstorm on his social media platform Truth Social of some 88 messages carrying various conspiracy theories.

“Declare the rightful winner or, and this would be the minimal solution, declare the 2020 Election irreparably compromised and have a new Election, immediately!,” he wrote.

Even die-hard conservative scholars agreed that possibility was bonkers, coming almost two years too late.

Yet, emboldened by his MAGA enablers, Trump grabbed attention prior to Biden’s prime-time address by promising to issue full pardons and a government apology to rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

He also said he was financially supporting some of the Jan. 6 defendants, although he didn’t name names or say exactly how he was supporting them.

Nor did he explain how his support for the rioters who brutally beat police officers at the Capitol squares with his usual law-and-order support for the men in blue. About 140 members of law enforcement were injured during the riot, according to The Washington Post. One officer, Brian Sicknick, who had been sprayed with a powerful irritant, suffered a stroke and died a day later.

And McCarthy, among other Republicans, wonders why terms such as “semi-fascism” come up. Compared to my own feelings about those thugs at the Capitol, I think Biden was being polite.

Sure, I don’t have to be an Army veteran — although I am — to feel uncomfortable about watching Biden deliver a speech that sounded unusually political for an occasion in which he was flanked by two Marines standing at attention.

Yet, politics goes with the territory, especially when the “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” obviously is tied to the actions and attitudes of the most prominent figure in the rival party.

Indeed, politics and governance often go hand-in-hand. But this time around, as Biden said, this is not normal. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said.

We’re witnessing the evidence in real time. With the midterms ahead, we, the people, have another opportunity to decide what direction our democracy is going to take — while we still have a democracy.

Contact Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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