Given that this is also Rick Perry’s self-appointed mission and Perry’s allegedly on the verge of running out of cash to pay his staffers, it’s … not obvious to me why Rand wants to try it too.

Maybe he thinks the problem with Perry’s approach isn’t with the approach so much as it is with Perry himself. Rand likes to throw elbows; he’s a better attack dog than Perry is. If he succeeds in taking a bite out of Trump by warning off right-wing supporters, he’ll not only grab some of Trump’s spotlight, he’ll earn the gratitude from Republican establishmentarians who are otherwise lukewarm about him.

“The truth-telling is bluster, the truth-telling is non-sequitur, it’s self-aggrandizement,” Paul said. “Is there really anything substantive coming out of saying people are fat, people are stupid?”…

On the call, Paul explained his decision to go aggressively negative on Trump, the reality television star and real estate magnate. “If no one stands up to a bully, a bully will keep doing what they’re doing,” Paul said. “And unless someone points out that the emperor has no clothes, they’ll continue to strut about and what we’ll end up with is a reality TV star as the nominee if we’re not careful.”

“I’m at the point where I’ve decided, you know what, someone is going to have to say that, “he added. “It’s high time that somebody does stands up and really call nonsense nonsense.”

This morning he went so far as to hint to Breitbart that President Trump would be a fascist in the making, the sort of guy who’d eagerly expand further on the executive branch’s ever expanding powers:

He added, “I think all the bravado and all the, ‘You’re stupid’ kind of language, it doesn’t really get us anywhere. But it also makes you think that imperiousness, that he’s just going to say, ‘Well, I’m Donald Trump, and therefore, it is so.’ And our government is built on sort of checks and balances that we have co-equal branches. And one of my concerns, and one the concerns of Tea Party, frankly, has been that the executive branch has grown too strong, and I say as I go around the country, we actually need to give power back to the legislature, and back to the people respectively. And my concern is that he would grab up that power, and really treat the country as sort of his little bully fiefdom. And I think that could be a real problem, particularly when we’re not sure…what is his philosophy. He said to the Wall Street Journal, he said, [paraphrasing] ‘I give politicians money so they’ll do what the hell I tell them to do.’ That kind of concerns me, because that’s what I don’t like about Washington, that politicians are bought and sold. You know, Hillary Clinton, many of us conservatives are upset with Hillary Clinton because she sells access, or appears to sell access. Well, my concern is also a businessman like Donald Trump buying access. Isn’t that equally despicable?”

Two days ago he published an op-ed at the IJ Review subtly entitled, “Don’t fall for a fake conservative,” which I encourage you to read just because of the degree of anguish it captures at seeing the tea party fall into the grip of Trumpmania. I was there when the modern tea-party movement began, says Rand; I got elected to the Senate in the tea-party midterms of 2010. “It makes me sad to think that Tea Party awakening could be hijacked or hoodwinked by a guy,” he says, “who supported the bank bailouts, supported Obamacare, and continues to support the Clintons.” You can understand his confusion: For six years, Paul’s been arguing that tea partiers are essentially anti-government libertarians at heart. That’s never been as true as Paul would like — tea partiers remain broadly hawkish and they’ve always been comfortable with the entitlement state in polling — but tea partiers have been admirable watchdogs in calling big-government Republicans out for their heresies. Now here comes Trump, a big-government Republican who’s not even really a Republican, and he’s a bigger hit on the right than Rand Paul himself ever was. Imagine how devastating that must be to Paul psychologically. Tea-party-ism has been his brand since day one, and now it’s been coopted by a guy who’s antithetical in many ways to what Paul imagines the tea party to be.

Or … has it? If you look at the polls, it’s not true that Trump’s support comes overwhelmingly from grassroots conservatives. On the contrary, one of the things that pollsters have been marveling at in his numbers is that there’s no obvious demographic rhyme or reason to them. He draws from tea partiers, but he also draws from Republican moderates and liberals. In fact, in some polls, it’s the latter group that’s more solidly pro-Trump than conservatives are. WaPo crunched some data yesterday showing that Trump fans, while conservative on balance, are less likely to be conservative than people who identified as tea partiers in 2010, when the movement first gained traction. When news broke this weekend that Erick Erickson’s decision to disinvite Trump from the Red State Gathering was fairly well received by attendees, some reporters on Twitter scratched their heads that conservative opinion on Trump might change so swiftly. It’s not really surprising, countered Jonathan Martin of the NYT, because grassroots righties of the Red State variety really aren’t militantly pro-Trump. They like his anti-establishmentarianism but on policy they prefer serious conservatives like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. The reason pundits, me included, have occasionally fallen into the trap of assuming that the tea party is firmly in Trump’s camp is that his candidacy lends itself to an easy “establishment versus grassroots” narrative, and when you think conservative grassroots, you think tea partiers. But it’s a fallacy. Which is not to say that Rand’s point is unfair: You can still be disappointed in tea partiers who are pro-Trump, as he is, without leaping to the conclusion that they’re representative of the entire movement.

But back to the original question. Why is he picking this fight? Is it a simple play for attention, now that he seems to have slid firmly out of the top tier? Does Rand think that he’s the logical alternative for moderate Republican voters if/when Trump is finally cleared out of the way? Is it a way to distract from his campaign’s problems, from the head of his Super PAC being indicted for campaign finance violations to state legislators back home resisting his attempt to run simultaneously in Kentucky for president and Senate? Is this a personal thing, with Rand disgusted to see his brand as the “different kind of Republican” in the race, which he’d carefully cultivated for years, snatched out from under him in six weeks by a guy who spends most of his time insulting his critics? My hunch is that the first theory is the correct one — he desperately needs to get back on voters’ radar screens and a war with Trump is the most logical way to do it — but it must be agonizing for libertarians, seeing Paul as their best vessel to remake the GOP in their image, to watch him be reduced from talking foreign policy and criminal justice reform to throwing eggs at Donald Trump in hopes of getting his attention. Exit quotation: