In the aftermath of Wednesday's insurrection at the Capitol, Republicans may have relinquished their grasp on one of the most potent campaign messages in the 2020 election — law and order.
It became the centerpiece of Donald Trump's presidential campaign last summer after riots broke out in cities across America following George Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer. Republicans juxtaposed images of burning buildings with calls from Minneapolis Democrats to move funding away from police departments and into other services. Republicans vowed to not only protect but also increase budgets for law enforcement.
It was a critical lifeline for the party at a time when Trump's approval ratings were dipping and the administration was losing the messaging battle on handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while Trump lost the election, moderate Democrats have blamed the effectiveness of Republicans' law-and-order messaging for costing them key down-ballot legislative and congressional battles.
Republicans maintained control of the Minnesota Senate by a single vote after an onslaught of law-and-order and "defund the police" mailers and television ads this summer and fall against Democratic candidates in rural and suburban races. They narrowed Democrats' majority in the Minnesota and U.S. House using a similar message.
Yet the images of the Trump-incited mob storming the Capitol on Wednesday and the death of a police officer who interacted with insurgents have destroyed the party's ability to take the "moral high ground" on law and order, said Marty Seifert, a former House Republican minority leader and former candidate for governor.
"Before our party could say, 'we obey the law, we don't defile public property, we respect law enforcement,' the moral ground was hijacked by a few thousand people," Seifert said. "It's an absolute stain on our country and our party."
Five people have died so far with injuries sustained during the breach, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher during interactions with rioters, according to the Associated Press.
At the height of the breach, Trump did little to discourage his followers who were inside the building. He issued several tweets reminding his supporters that "WE are the Party of Law & Order — Respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue." In a one-minute video, Trump said "we have to have law and order," after empathizing with rioters' frustrations over the election. The rioters did not leave.
Dave Thul, a former Republican Party activist in the First District, said Republicans used that message effectively in 2020 but now it's "not going to be there anymore." What's more, he said, Democrats can now effectively use the same message against them.
"I don't see any alternative to the fact that in 2022, every political ad that you're going to see running against a Republican is going to be a picture of the Capitol and of Trump flags and the gas and the smoke," he said. "I don't know how you win with that."