All three have sought behind the scenes to develop an amicable relationship with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. The leader was notified well in advance of Paul’s intentions to mount a filibuster, and ultimately joined the effort himself on the Senate floor. That outreach appears to have paid off: Earlier this year, the three senators were awarded a number of coveted committee slots, and have won leadership’s backing on key proposals, such as their demand for a vote this week to delay federal funding for Obamacare.

At the same time, McConnell has courted his conservative colleagues — Paul in particular — in an effort to shore up his right flank as he prepares to defend his seat in 2014. McConnell has supported a number of Paul’s legislative efforts, and even hired Paul’s former campaign manager to run his own reelection. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, is also up in 2014, and Cruz’s presence has certainly pulled him to the right. “Now is the time to be pushing boundaries,” a conservative aide told NRO earlier this year, noting these electoral calculations.

However, as the same aide explained last week, Paul, Lee, and Cruz have been and will continue to be most effective by working within the system. “It can’t just be about getting the FreedomWorks of the world all ginned up, or trying to oust Boehner, or whatever,” the aide says. “From here on out, we’re trying to push a reform agenda in a more substantive way than just throwing apples.”