Cliven Bundy: The tea party’s latest anti-hero


Jennifer Scalzo and her husband, Anthony Scalzo, rallied for Cliven Bundy last week in Bunkerville, Nev. (John Locher, Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP)

Republicans who have in recent days shown support for Cliven Bundy's beef -- no pun intended -- with the federal government are starting to back away from the Nevada rancher. That's what happens when you decide to muse about the possibility that, just maybe, African Americans would be better off under slavery.

In the coming hours and days, we can expect much of Bundy's existing support to dry up, and it will likely hurt his decades-long cause to graze his cattle on federal land significantly.

But given how all of this is shaping up now, it begs the question: Why did some Republicans see fit to get behind this guy in the first place?

The answer: anger.

Polls in recent years have shown that tea party supporters aren't just skeptical of the federal government; they're actually quite angry at it. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed 96 percent of tea partiers said you can only sometimes or never trust the government -- and 20 percent of them volunteered "never," even though it wasn't offered as an option.

Similarly, a 2012 CBS New poll showed that 53 percent of tea party supporters said they were "angry" at the federal government, compared with just 19 percent of everyone else.

Two others things the tea party loves, of course, are guns and the Constitution.

In Bunkerville, Nev., you have a guy who not only doesn't trust the federal government; he says he doesn't believe in it, period. And he's surrounded by armed supporters creating a modern-day militia, as the federal government shows up with its own arms ready for a standoff. The result is basically a tailor-made tea party struggle featuring the little guy against big, intrusive, heavy-handed government.

The tea party is a movement constantly in search of a cause, and it tends to get quite involved basically any time it feels the federal government -- or the GOP establishment -- oversteps its bounds.

When it comes to Republican primaries, this has sometimes led the movement to back unsavory and/or later-discredited candidates, such as Richard Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell or Sharron Angle. All of these candidates were great receptacles for the tea party's anger but turned out to be exceedingly poor messengers for its cause.

The situation with Bundy is much the same. The tea party found what seemed like a good cause, but because it's a rather unwieldy and diffuse organization, its supporters never truly vetted the man whose lot they was throwing in with.

This is Politics 101; anytime you join a cause, you make darn sure you want to be seen with the guy/gal leading the charge. But the tea party can't or won't figure this out.

And today, the Republicans and tea partiers who had the poor judgment to get too friendly with Bundy's cause -- and we note here that some who spoke out against the federal government's actions were indeed cautious about fully embracing Bundy, the man -- are paying the price.

Update: This post initially mentioned Todd Akin as a tea party primary candidate. He wasn't the consensus tea party candidate in the 2012 Missouri Senate primary, but later received tea party support.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Next Story
Sean Sullivan · April 24