On Tuesday, Rand Paul will fill a space previously held only by Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain: He’ll deliver the Tea Party’s response to the State of the Union address. There’s a little tension among activists over how he was chosen, but leaders of the “leaderless movement” seem to have come to a consensus on one thing: Rand is going to kill it.
James Valvo of Americans for Prosperity, who has worked extensively with grassroots organizations opposing big government, says he thinks the choice is “fantastic.” The only area where tensions arise is around who did the choosing: The response speech is organized by the Tea Party Express, a group that some say has overstepped its bounds by claiming the authority to decide who gets to give the official response. Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, tells NRO he’s heard some “grumbling” about Tea Party Express’s control. He adds that he doesn’t have a problem with their leadership role and hasn’t heard any complaints about their choice.
Another source close to a number of Tea Party groups tells NRO that there’s “lots of discomfort” with the Tea Party Express’s hegemony in the movement. “The Tea Party is like a hydra,” he says, pointing out that having one organization control the response of a group that’s fundamentally disparate and disconnected can result in clashes.
“When you have somebody come out and say, ‘Hey, we’re the leaders and it’s our thing,’ it’s going to rub some people the wrong way sometimes,” he says.
That said, everyone seems happy with their choice. Nothing against Rubio, of course — Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo says he’s “thoroughly delighted” with the GOP’s choice — but the marketplace of ideas means that it’s the more the merrier as far as responses to the president go.
“We’re just excited that people have platforms to express different ideas and different reactions, because there is no one voice,” says Jackie Bodnar of FreedomWorks.
Phillips is enthusiastic about the possibility of Rubio and Paul splitting the spotlight. “I love that idea!” he tells me. “I want them to compete till the cows come home!”
“I think these guys should compete early and should compete often,” he continues, “whether it’s competing for attention, ideas, etc., I think it’s all good and I’d love to see more of it.”
Valvo also says he’s not worried the two potential 2016 contenders will drown each other out.
“I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” he says. “Rubio’s already trying to compete with the president.”