KY Sen. Rand Paul withholding Trump endorsement as top consultant works for RFK Jr.

As Donald Trump bulldozed his way to another apparent Republican presidential nomination earlier this year, considerable intrigue centered around whether Sen. Mitch McConnell would offer his public blessing to his on-again, off-again nemesis.

Now, nearing five months from Election Day, it’s Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator, who is stiff-arming his party’s 2024 presumptive GOP nominee.

Close to three months after McConnell announced his support for Trump, Paul still hasn’t gotten aboard the Trump train. A Paul adviser says the senator needs to see more from Trump first.

“Rand will continue to consider endorsing, but it will be when and if he sees President Trump going more in on liberty issues and candidates,” the Paul adviser told The Herald-Leader. “It’s not about getting his endorsement, it’s about being boldly able to speak to liberty voters on issues.”

In an interview with the Herald-Leader last summer, Paul also expressed concern about Trump’s ability to win a general election.

“I think every independent in the country has made a decision about Donald Trump. I don’t think that they’re really open to sort of seeing that he would change,” said Paul, who pursued the GOP presidential nomination during the 2016 cycle.

“And I’m not sure he’s open to changing.”

But that was months before Trump steamrolled his Republicans rivals and built a marginal but consistent polling lead over Democratic President Joe Biden.

It was also before Robert Kennedy Jr. announced he would pursue his White House candidacy as an independent.

Paul has built a warm relationship with Kennedy, whose aversion to the COVID-19 vaccines and foreign wars — including the conflict in Ukraine — aligns closely with the senator’s libertarian orthodoxy.

What’s more, Paul’s chief political strategist, Doug Stafford, signed on to help Kennedy’s campaign.

Stafford was paid $30,000 in April for campaign consulting services, according to Kennedy’s Federal Election Commission report. The payment was first reported by The Washington Free Beacon.

At the same time, Paul pays Stafford a $12,000 monthly retainer for political consulting. Stafford is one of Paul’s original political advisers, becoming his Senate chief of staff after the senator’s first election in 2010. He’s also the architect of Paul’s political action committee, RandPAC, cultivating the senator’s grassroots fundraising base.

There aren’t public records of him working for other candidates, until the Kennedy-Paul relationship bloomed this winter.

After an in-person meeting with Kennedy in January, Paul expressed online that he liked Trump, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Kennedy as options for the presidency.

Later, when McConnell revealed he would be stepping down as Republican leader following the November elections, Kennedy returned the praise, floating Paul as “an incredible successor” who would “prioritize American wellness over all else.”

In April, they recorded a podcast together covering what they alleged as “censorship” during the coronavirus pandemic.

While it would be highly unlikely for Paul to break with his party and openly support Kennedy’s third party bid for the presidency, his hesitancy in endorsing Trump is noticeable, particularly as the former president seeks to corral a united front around him as he faces a potential felony conviction in New York for falsifying business records.

Paul has even indicated he may skip this summer’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Trump will be formally nominated.

Fueling the intrigue is Paul’s connections to the top of Trump’s orbit.

Chris LaCivita, who is running Trump’s campaign this go-round, was a top adviser to Paul’s failed presidential bid in 2016 and has consulted on his Senate races.

Trump’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, has also worked for Paul in the past.

But the relationship between the Paul and Trump camps frayed this spring as Paul’s kinship with Kennedy flourished and Trump’s team increasingly viewed the third party scion as a menace who could siphon from their coalition, politicla insiders told the Herald-Leader.

It’s unclear if there’s still an open line of communication between the two camps, but the broad assumption in Washington is that Paul will eventually signal his support for Trump on his own terms, much like former GOP candidate Nikki Haley did last week.

Yet no timeline has been proposed and left unknown is if Trump will expend any energy courting Paul’s issues or supporters.