"The Daily Caller has learned that Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul is endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell for re-election in 2014, ending speculation that Paul would back a tea party challenge to the Senate Minority Leader."
This should surprise no one who has been paying attention.
Paul supported McConnell for Republican Senate Leader and his former campaign manager (and nephew) is now running McConnell's campaign.
In return, McConnell has backed Paul-related issues such as industrial hemp legalization and even appeared on the Senate floor to support Paul's filibuster. McConnell wanted nothing to do with Rand Paul circa 2009, but by 2013 the most powerful Republican politician in Kentucky history deigned it necessary to grace the Senate floor in support of the man he tried his best to quash four years earlier.
As Rand Paul endorses Mitch McConnell, the two have not only learned to live with each other, but they have the modern equivalent of an alliance through royal marriage.
Now that Paul has effectively headed off any potential tea party challenge, the hope is that McConnell will shelter Paul from an establishment primary opponent in 2016. Paul's primary victory of the hand-selected Trey Grayson in 2010 is the closest anyone in Kentucky has ever come to beating McConnell and the Kentucky Don would probably like to avoid another resounding rebuke.
A consummate political insider, McConnell is the de facto head of the Kentucky GOP and he can tell where the wind is blowing. His younger colleague has the support of the conservative base and is quickly becoming a fixture in Republican-friendly media outlets. A Paul presidential run would be the perfect way for McConnell to get rid of him for someone more compliant, but short of that, a McConnell-backed puppet would generate a rally-round-the-conservative effect around Rand Paul.
Four months ago, Public Policy found McConnell to be one of the most unpopular Senators in the country, but he still beat every prospective Democratic challenger. Ashley Judd was the Democrat who polled best against McConnell, at 29% and nearly twice as well as any other Democrat, and she still backed out.
Most of all, there is no good reason for Paul to openly defy McConnell. Politically, it would unite the GOP establishment against Paul and fan the flames in the corporate media that the tea party and conservative wings of the party are the inmates running the asylum.
The most likely tea party candidate would have been US Rep. Thomas Massie and the 4th district congressman has been moot on any plans to challenge McConnell. In fact, he has been quelling the calls for such a suicide mission.
I have little regard for Mitch McConnell outside of his talents as a politician, but when he comes out for industrial hemp legalization and supports Paul, however belatedly, in his filibuster, it's not because of genuine philosophical shifts in a man in his seventies. It's because it matters what Rand Paul is doing and he can't be ignored.