Sen. Rand Paul is dismissing the idea that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Republican primary victory in Kentucky Tuesday night was a defeat for the tea party movement.
Paul, who upset the establishment-backed candidate in his own 2010 primary, had endorsed McConnell early in the race, which was a sour point for some on the right who viewed the incumbent as too entrenched and insufficiently conservative.
"I'm probably considered to be from the tea party, but I supported Sen. McConnell because I like, you know, that he's a conservative," Paul told reporters Wednesday in the Capitol. "I don't know that that's a defeat of the tea party necessarily when he wins. I think he stands for conservative principles, and him winning is consistent with the tea party."
"It's not always, I think, as clear cut who is — since the tea party has no membership," Paul continued. "It's sort of like everybody — or a lot of people — say they're in it, some people say they're not."
Now, Paul is seeking party unity as McConnell's general election race against Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes kicks into gear. The Kentucky Senate race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
"I was happy with Sen. McConnell winning yesterday, and I think he'll be a good candidate and have a good chance in the fall," Paul said.
Paul said McConnell's primary challenger Matt Bevin had a "credible campaign" despite getting less than 40 percent of the vote Tuesday. He also offered an olive branch of sorts to Bevin.
"It's just hard to win ... against an incumbent, but you know, I think he's got a future if he wants to continue work in the party," Paul said of Bevin. "I hope he will support Senator McConnell, the nominee, because I think that'll show that there are no sour grapes and that he's really willing to, you know, do what's best for Kentucky and for the Republican party."