To be “thrown under the bus” is to be sacrificed by someone hoping to avoid blame themselves, often in order to make political gain.
It connotes a cynical and hardball strategy whereby an ally or subordinate is scapegoated or abandoned to protect oneself or one’s interests.
As Newsweek notes:
In general, ‘thrown under the bus’ is a metaphor for what happens when someone takes a hit for someone else’s actions.
But unlike its etymological cousins, ‘scapegoat’ and ‘fall guy,’ the phrase suggests a degree of intimacy between the blamer and the blamed.
For instance, a politician may “throw a staff member under the bus” by blaming them for a policy failure or scandal that arises, rather than accepting responsibility for their own actions or decisions.
Similarly, a political party may “throw a candidate under the bus” by withdrawing support or distancing themselves from them after a controversy, to protect the party’s image or electoral chances.
The term reflects the harsh realities of political power dynamics, where loyalty and trust can often be secondary to self-interest, and alliances may be readily sacrificed in the face of adversity or threat.
“Throwing someone under the bus” is therefore often seen as a sign of political opportunism or a lack of integrity.
Moreover, it’s essential to note that the phrase isn’t exclusive to the realm of politics. It’s widely used in other settings such as the workplace or interpersonal relationships, where similar dynamics of power, blame, and self-protection can play out.
Examples of “thrown under the bus” in a sentence:
- When the scandal broke, the mayor quickly “threw his deputy under the bus,” blaming him entirely for the misconduct to protect his own political future.
- The party leadership decided to “throw the controversial candidate under the bus,” withdrawing their support to avoid alienating moderate voters in the upcoming election.
- Faced with public outcry over the failed policy, the minister chose to “throw the policy advisor under the bus,” suggesting it was their advice that led to the debacle, rather than admitting to her own poor judgment.