By Jon Keller

WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) — Protesters returned to the streets of the nation’s capital today, with heightened security measures across the city. Demonstrators met the President and First Lady when they visited the Saint John Paul the Second National Shrine. Shortly afterward, he signed an executive order promoting international religious freedom.

“It’s a pretty consistent continuum for this president in standing up for religious freedom,” said presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway.

It was the president’s second visit to a religious site in as many days. On Monday evening, peaceful protesters across from the White House in Lafayette Park were forcibly dispersed by federal police. Moments later, the president walked to the nearby damaged St. John’s church, where he held up a bible.

Church leaders were upset by the display. Bishop Marianne Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington decried what she called “a symbolic gesture, holding a bible, as if to spiritually condone a message and a posture that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”

White House sources tell CBS News the president’s trip to the church was meant to be a show of strength.

He’s now threatening to use the US military against US citizens to end protests that in some cases have turned violent.

“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said.

So will a hard-line law-and-order stance prove politically effective for Mr. Trump?

The classic case study of that was Richard Nixon’s use of it in the 1968 presidential campaign, but that came after four years of urban rioting that left dozens dead, hundreds injured and tens of thousands arrested. And Nixon was not the incumbent in 1968. When he tried to play the law and order card again in the 1970 midterms it didn’t work.

The effectiveness of these tactics depends on the level of voter fear. And while you could say Trump’s victory in 2016 was built on fear, of illegal immigrants, of globalism and so on, his effort to use the refugee caravans to stoke fear in the 2018 midterms was a notable failure.

With the sharp erosion of his support over his handling of the pandemic and the collapse of the economy, the president may feel he has nowhere else to turn.

Jon Keller

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