"It's like, really, Glenn Beck? This is the issue you want to get behind?" said one Nevada conservative activist who has followed the story for years. "People who aren't in tune with the story just jumped all over it. And then you go back and read the facts of the story, and then you go, 'Uh oh.'"
As became clear late last week and over the weekend, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has a core group of supporters, many of whom happen to have weapons they're willing to bring to a protest. Bundy, who's been ignoring federal laws and court rulings for many years, also has his champions among conservative media personalities.
But David Nather noted that there seems to be a ceiling on Bundy support among conservatives who ordinarily enjoy railing against "big government," but who fail to see a "powerful rallying cry" in this story.
Uh oh, indeed. The new right-wing cause celebre is a man who doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, and whose supporters appeared prepared for a confrontation -- a potentially violent confrontation -- with American law enforcement.
The Politico report noted that Republicans and Tea Partiers are eager to talk about the Affordable Care Act and the IRS, but took a pass on Bundy: "Officials at the top Republican campaign organizations, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, didn't respond to requests for comment. Top lawmakers were silent. And a spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots said there was no one available to talk about the rancher issue on Tuesday."
I suppose that's preferable to the alternative -- GOP leaders cheering Bundy on -- but the silence isn't altogether comforting, either.
At National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke published a piece overnight, calling Bundy's actions "indefensible," no matter how sympathetic he may appear. Cooke added, "Cliven Bundy has been dealt a raw hand by a system that is deaf to his grievances and ham-fisted in its response. But this is a republic, dammit -- and those who hope to keep it cannot pick and choose the provisions with which they are willing to deign to comply."
I'm still waiting for one prominent Republican official to say something similar. I have a hunch I'll be waiting quite a while. Kevin Drum argued persuasively yesterday, "Mainstream conservatives have pandered to this stuff for years because it was convenient, and that's brought them to where they are today: too scared to stand up to the vigilantes they created and speak the simple truth. They complain endlessly about President Obama's 'lawlessness,' but this is lawlessness."
Cooke's report was welcome, but why must he stand largely alone? For that matter, why is it Republican officials are aware of this story, but are afraid to stand up for the rule of law?
Postscript: It's also worth taking a moment to read Jamelle Bouie's thought-provoking piece on what the reactions would have been if Bundy and his allies were black.