Cotton’s emergence as a populist ally of the president was not always to be expected. The Harvard-educated Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Washington in his 30s as the great hope of many neoconservatives, some of whom have since gone Never Trump, at a time when libertarian forces in the Republican Party were ascendant. His letter challenging President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and pointing out that it was not a ratified treaty, signed by all Republican senators, helped launch his national profile. One prominent neocon who later turned Never Trumper cited Cotton as a possible foil to Rand Paul’s presidential ambitions: “I think Christie-Cotton is much more likely in 2016 than Paul-Amash.”

Now, Cotton is talked about as someone who might grab the top spot of the Republican ticket in 2024, running as a higher-brow Trump imitator. “I think he would make a fantastic presidential candidate,” said a source familiar with the senator’s thinking, “but he would be very open to serving in the Trump administration in a second term if the president is reelected.” The source emphasized that Cotton is currently focused on his Arkansas constituents. Cotton is up for reelection this year but did not draw a Democratic challenger.