Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was one of the four million registered Republicans who ran for president in 2016, with his valiant effort getting him all the way to February before he dropped out after the Iowa caucuses. During the primary, the Kentucky Republican called Trump “sophomoric” but these days, he can’t get enough of the guy.

At times, Paul has pretended to be a thorn in Trump’s side, like with his public waffling over voting for Mike Pompeo. But in the past several months, as the Hill pointed out on Thursday, Paul has become one of Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress, particularly with regard to Trump’s relationship with Russia and his very public feud with the Department of Justice.

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This is a marked contrast from the 2016 campaign, when Paul became one of Trump’s earliest targets. “I feel sorry for the great people of Kentucky who are being used as a backup to Senator Paul’s hopeless attempt to become President of the United States—weak on the military, Israel, the Vets and many other issues,” Trump told the Washington Post in August 2015, after Paul’s campaign released a video of Trump saying he identifies as “more of a Democrat.”

“Senator Paul has no chance of winning the nomination and the people of Kentucky should not allow him the privilege of remaining their Senator. Rand should save his lobbyist’s and special interest money and just go quietly home,” Trump added.

How things can change in just a couple of years. Last month, Paul personally delivered a letter from Trump to Russian president Vladimir Putin, which the White House said was all Paul’s idea. And last week, Paul said Trump should use lie detector tests to find the person who wrote the New York Times’ anonymous op-ed, which sounds, uh, not very “libertarian” at all.

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You don’t have to take my dirty collectivist word for it. “The vast majority of libertarian scholars, intellectuals, policy analysts and the like view Trump far more negatively than not,” Ilya Somin, a libertarian law professor at George Mason University, told the Hill. University of Pennsylvania professor Alvin Felzenberg also told the Hill: “For a libertarian senator to favor lie detector tests, surveillance of people working for the government, and the other things he’s called for, I find it a paradox.”

Paul’s closest advisors defended the senator’s clearly calculated bear hug of Trump. Former Paul aide Brian Darling told the site that Paul was being “consistent” with his libertarianism, while Paul’s deputy chief of staff, Sergio Gor, said Paul “considers Trump a personal friend.”

“Their relationship predates either one of them running for the presidency,” Gor told the Hill. “From increased engagement around the world, to cutting regulations and taxes at home, to ending futile nation-building exercises around the world, they have often found areas of mutual agreement.”

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Whether Paul is positioning himself for a Cabinet role, another presidential run in the future, or simply his next re-election bid, it’s clear that Paul understands where the Republican Party is headed in the future, and it sure as hell isn’t libertarianism.