03/18/2015 08:28 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015

Many Republican officials harbor a rebellious stance towards the federal government that they were elected to serve, and whose authority they are supposed to uphold.

Occasionally, this antipathy towards big government erupts into overt acts of defiance that stretch states' rights and/or libertarian ideals to the brink of insurrection.

There is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling on states to ignore the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) anti-pollution regulations because they are too extreme. McConnell cannot stomach that the EPA has the authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set strict standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. It drives him batty that the regulations he considers excessive are within the purview of the statute, which additionally has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the top Republican in a Congress controlled by his party is promoting the disregard of federal law, it bodes ill for governance of the nation.

Republican dismissiveness towards federal law was also openly evidenced in the recent case of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who refused to pay grazing fees for his cattle's use of federal lands over a 20 year period. He then resisted government demands that he remove his herd from where they had been illegally grazing. Even as he persisted in being an unrepentant scofflaw, a number of leading Republican politicians eulogized him as a champion of individual freedom facing down big government's alleged bureaucratic tyranny. The GOP officials eventually felt compelled to back off -- not because Bundy was violating federal law -- but because he was caught making racist remarks in a public forum.

The chief justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court has defied a federal bench's ruling that he was legally bound to obey under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. His rationale for his rogue behavior -- a disagreement with the federal judge's decision to lift the state ban on same sex marriages.

One doesn't expect the recalcitrant Alabama judge to challenge federal authorities with a shotgun on the courthouse steps. Rather, it is likely he will ultimately acquiesce to the marriage ban reversal or end up being cited for contempt and removed from his post.

Indeed, it is rather rare for defiance to morph into physical violence. One exception was a secessionist movement in Texas back in the late 1990s' when a militant flare-up led to the jailing of the leader of a particularly contentious faction. Texas' secessionist movement may have once been bloodied, but to this day, it remains unbowed. Recently, pollsters found 49 percent of Texas Republicans in favor of secession, and former Texas governor Rick Perry has given the dissidents a wink and a nod.

Politicians in Utah talk about forcing the federal government to relinquish its vast holdings in their state, but through litigation rather than arms. Legal scholars, however, say Utah does not stand a chance of prevailing in the courts. What then? How does Utah propose to "force" the federal government to turn over public lands to the state?

And then there is the newly elected Republican U.S. senator from Iowa, Jodi Ernst. She boasts of keeping a stockpile of weapons around the house in the event it is necessary to resist a takeover by a tyrannical federal government.

Those Republicans who often find themselves defiant of federal law and institutions claim it is nothing more than a healthy expression of federalism. A less charitable description would be a flirtation with anarchy.