One of the most intriguing sideplots from Senate Republicans' successful filibuster blocking Chuck Hagel from becoming Defense Secretary was that one of the GOP ringleaders was recently tagged by critics as someone who shared his more-isolationist worldview.
But freshman Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who openly talks about his presidential ambitions for 2016, is playing the long game – and his politically savvy positioning suggests he'll be a major national player. Unlike his father, he's not interested in pursuing ideologically charged issues just for the sake of making a point, he's learning how to make an impact in Washington.
One senior Republican leadership aide gushed with admiration over the freshman senator, emphasizing that he's been able to tailor his libertarian ideology toward legislation that holds broader appeal. The adviser touted his involvement on right-to-work legislation, his call to audit the Federal Reserve, and even his leadership on legalizing industrial hemp – legislation first pushed by his father, which has now won support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"Rand is somebody who has the generational know-how to turn it into 21st century machine. He gets branding. He understands there's a need for credibility," said the adviser. "He understands he doesn't have the answers to everything. He's not afraid of input, but is totally confident in listening to input to help achieve his goals."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been getting all the national attention lately, landing on the cover ofTIME, National Review and our latest issue of National Journal. But the senator who delivered the lesser-watched Tea Party reaction is the one who is shaping up to have an equally big impact – and could shake up Republican party politics in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race.