Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a darling of the tea party movement, cautioned that its activists may not be helping the Republican Party.
"They get frustrated, they act out and sometimes they act too angrily and sometimes it doesn't come off well," Paul told MCNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday. "They might not necessarily build the party."
Paul's comments came after a photo began circulating on the Internet that showed a tea party member in Texas with a sign carrying racial epithet.
"I think they're unhappy," Paul said on the program, but warned that the tea party movement was made up of both Republicans and Democrats disenchanted with "the establishment party."
Tea party activists have been flexing their political muscle in races across the country, including in Florida where the state's GOP chairman, Jim Greer, was recently forced to resign after endorsing Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate. Tea party members favor Crist's opponent, former State House Speaker Marco Rubio, whose views they see as a more closely aligned with their conservative values.
Paul told Maddow: "I don't think you can talk about the tea party as a party. It's made up of a lot of different people. And I don't even see them as being Republicans."