Rand Paul has had a good year.
Last April, the Kentucky Republican made it onto Time's list of the 100 most influential people with an endorsement from Sarah Palin, who noted that she "sent him some caribou jerky from Alaska" to help give him strength.
This year, Paul appears on the Time 100 again. But instead of getting an entry written by a politician on the decline, Paul's endorsement comes from the lawmaker who leads the Republican Party in the Senate, and could well wind up as the chamber's majority leader in less than a year.
Paul, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell writes, is "beating the bushes for anyone who prizes liberty, and he's forcing people to rethink the Republican Party." McConnell also got in a semi-veiled dig at one of Paul's potential 2016 competitors, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, by praising Paul for not speaking ill of his fellow Republicans. McConnell's come a long way from supporting Paul's primary opponent in 2010. The Time entry itself is titled "The libertarian champion," and is just about as raving a review as you'd ever see one politician give another.
It's especially raving compared with how Paul endorsed McConnell for his Senate campaign this year. Because, while McConnell may need Paul in his reelection fight, Paul isn't necessarily publicly pleading for the leader's support.
In Paul's telling, McConnell isn't quite beating any shrubbery of freedom. When asked by Glenn Beck back in February why Paul was endorsing the minority leader in his GOP primary, Paul said he was going to campaign for McConnell because "he asked me when there was nobody else in the race." Paul later clarified that he sees McConnell as "an important ally and a conservative voice in Washington." Paul followed up that endorsement by dodging a question about it at a community forum last week in Kentucky.
In response to the Time 100 endorsement, a spokesperson for Rand Paul said that the senator "is excited to be a part of the national debate and is very appreciative of the kind words from his friend and colleague Sen. McConnell."
As Paul spends more and more time crafting his national image ahead of a possible presidential campaign, it's clear that he's interested in more power and influence than McConnell could possibly give him in the Senate. But McConnell, in his courtship of the libertarian wing of his party, still has a lot to gain from Paul. Writing glowing tributes in a major national magazine may be a good start.
This article was updated with comment on Time 100 from Sen. Paul's office.