A year before the first caucus and 21 months before the general election, it’s impossible to know whether Paul’s libertarian moment will arrive at the right time. The state of the international battle against the Islamic State, for instance, could determine whether Paul’s skeptical views on war seem prescient or out of touch.

For Paul, then, it is vital to control the factors that lie within his grasp. In his speech to those young conservatives, Paul said it was important to project a hopeful, almost joyous attitude.

“Sugarcoat it with optimism,” he told the crowd. “Like a man coming over the hill singing.”

This past week, Rand Paul did not look like a man coming over the hill singing.