“The attack at the Capitol was the outcome of years of eroding the line between fact and fiction and right and wrong,” said Rory Cooper, a Republican strategist. Mr. Cooper argued there was an opening now for a “conservative candidate” to definitively decouple appeals to law and order from the selective enforcement of the Trump era, “but we’re some distance from that time.”
Other Republicans insist no ground has been lost on the issue — that the party will likely retain the upper hand in the eyes of voters. “I think Republicans right now have the advantage of law and order and still do, regardless of” what happened at the Capitol, said Chris Russell, a longtime Republican consultant and ad maker.
And should Democrats “persist with a defund-the-police message,” Mr. Russell added — though Mr. Biden has denounced it — Republican candidates will likely continue to find success in framing their party as more committed to public safety, more supportive of law enforcement.
All of which squares with how some Republican lawmakers have rationalized the Capitol attack. They insist that the sea of marchers and rioters was not the outgrowth of months of indulging the president’s lie that the election was stolen, was not reflective of the party’s core, indeed was not reflective of the party at all. Across the country, Republican officials have claimed falsely that the deaths and damage were caused by antifa.
Hogan Gidley, a spokesman for the president, argued Mr. Trump’s message of love had not included those who stormed the Capitol. “The president was not talking about those people; clearly it was the people who were there to peaceably assemble, peaceably protest,” Mr. Gidley said, though Mr. Trump had not specified this fact. “Because we believe in protecting not just the concept of law and order, but the actual brave men and women who institute law and order.”
Yet if law and order means a commitment to equal security and justice, not even Mr. Trump’s own aides seem sure that, in the final days of his presidency, his supporters will abide it.
And so the law-and-order presidency ends like this: hundreds of National Guardsmen posted behind a seven-foot fence looped by razor wire, protecting the Capitol not from the people Mr. Trump spent his presidency demonizing, but all the ones he didn’t.