Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's media blitz bashing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as unworthy of Tea Party support isn't hitting its mark, at least not among leaders of the Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots, and Tea Party Nation.
"I want people to go out there and work for who they believe in," says Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer, who says she or any individual shouldn't dictate who people in the movement ought to vote for.
"These people are intelligent. They're not just sheeple that are following somebody," Kremer says, adding that Tea Partyers haven't coalesced behind one candidate yet. "They are looking at the issues; they're researching."
Paul, Texas Rep. Ron Paul's son, was elected on a wave of Tea Party support and is often considered a quintessential Tea Party senator. But the movement is not a monolithic organization, and it's unclear how much of an impact Paul's words will have—particularly when he is involved in his own father's campaign.
He hit the campaign trail hard for his dad today with back-to-back interviews on CNN and Fox News, all discussing his op-ed in the Des Moines Register and attacking Gingrich.
"If the Tea Party is to continue the work we resolved in 2010 to undertake," Paul wrote, "then we must not make a giant leap backward by electing big government, status quo Republicans like Gingrich in 2012."
Gingrich's sins, according to the younger Paul, include earning money from mortgage giant Freddie Mac, backing an individual healthcare mandate, and supporting the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.
But Gingrich has a few Tea Party leader endorsements under his belt, including from Tea Party Nation founder and CEO Judson Phillips, who gives the former speaker leeway on what some conservatives see as his past mistakes. "Newt Gingrich is not perfect, but he is head and shoulders above the best candidate in the field right now," he says.
Besides, there is no perfect candidate, Phillips adds. "What, are we going to have a purity test?" he asks. "If we're going to have a purity test for president, then guess what? We just might as well sign up for four more years of Barack Obama, because nobody's going to be pure enough."
Tea Party Patriots cofounder Mark Meckler agrees with Paul that Gingrich is not a "Tea Party" candidate based on his past, but he agrees with Phillips that there is no perfect candidate.
Meckler says the Tea Party is a movement of self-governance, which means he is critical of all politicians. "Self-governance means we don't trust any of them. I don't trust Republicans; I don't trust Democrats," he says, pointing out that Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney both believe they know the answers to the complex problems facing the nation.
"The problems facing the nation—just as one example, in healthcare—are just too vast to be solved by any national solution," Meckler says. "And it's, in my opinion, arrogant to think that somebody can."
In fact, Meckler says the act of saying someone is worthy or unworthy of Tea Party support—as Paul is doing—falls in the same category. "I'm not qualified to speak on behalf of every Tea Partyer in the nation. Nobody is," he says. "To me, that would be the same kind of arrogance that these folks exhibit in saying they know what's best for every American."