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COMMENTARY: Donald Trump goes all in defending Jan. 6 mob and Karl Rove goes off

Republican strategist Karl Rove has some excellent advice for Donald Trump, which, judging by his usual resistance to even the mildest criticism, Trump probably will refuse to hear.

But that doesn’t stop the rest of us from paying attention, especially President Joe Biden and others in his campaign as they try to gain some traction in what looks right now like an uphill battle.

With that in mind, Rove, a Fox News contributor and the chief strategist on George W. Bush’s successful 2000 presidential campaign, observed that Biden’s campaign would be missing a good bet if they failed to spotlight one of Trump’s most outrageous promises: his vow to free the Jan. 6 inmates, whom Trump calls “hostages,” as one of his first acts.

“If they were smart, they’d take Jan. 6 and go hard at it,” Rove said of the Biden campaign in a taped interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber at the recent Rancho Mirage Writers Festival in California, parts of which were aired Wednesday on Melber’s program “The Beat.”

Pleased as Trump may be with that promise, which ignites cheers and applause at his rallies, Rove noted that moderate voters would hear a less happy message: “He wants to pardon these people who attacked our Capitol.”

“And what those people did when they violently attacked the Capitol, in order to stop a constitutionally mandated meeting of the Congress to accept the results of the Electoral College, is a stain on our history,” Rove said. “And every one of those sons of bitches who did that, we oughta find them, try them and send them to jail.”

Like countless other outraged Americans, including me, Rove sounded as though he took the attack on our nation’s Capitol personally. “I worked in that building as a young man,” he said. “To me, the Congress of the United States is one of the great examples of the strength of our democracy and a jewel of the Constitution.”

I agree. As a loyal American and military veteran, I know I took the chaos at the Capitol personally, as if a mob had just stormed into my house and demanded my car and family photo albums, too. Surely, I thought, Trump’s adventure in politics was over.

But no. Trump regards the hostages as unblemished heroes — and most Republicans in Congress quickly fell in line or found themselves voted out or opting to retire.

And his audacity has become only more bold, notably in recent rallies where he has led his crowds in a salute, touching the brim of his red MAGA hat while a recorded chorus of inmates jailed for their roles in the Capitol attack sings the national anthem.

Predictably, such performative exercises sugarcoat Trump’s own role in inspiring some of his supporters to storm the Capitol.

For two months before the deadly insurrection, Trump falsely claimed the election was stolen from him and encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol and “show strength” on the day the election was certified.

As Rove said, it would be a critical mistake to let Trump off the hook for claiming, “I’m going to pardon those people because they’re hostages.”

“No, they’re not,” said Rove. “They’re thugs. There were people — some of them had automatic weapons at a hotel in Virginia hoping to be able to be called up.”

One would think full-throated support of such people wouldn’t be a political winner. Yet polls show the campaign continues to be remarkably close. As in all major campaigns, there still are a lot of voters who describe themselves as “undecided.”

That amazes me since, to me, the choices could hardly be more stark as we consider what kind of leadership we ought to have in these challenging times.

Yet a lot of people, as I have been reminded by other political consultants, vote less by research or knowledge of the many issues than by “feel” as they consider whether a certain candidate is on their side.

With that I am reminded of a popular T-shirt slogan among some in the MAGA crowd: “F—- your feelings.”

I don’t remember reading anything like that in my civics books. But obliterating such quaint notions as civics is kind of what Trump is all about, isn’t he?

Contact Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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