Few were surprised this week when Jim DeMint endorsed Rand Paul in his bid for US Senate in Kentucky. That the man many consider the most conservative member of the Senate endorsed the son of the man many consider the most conservative member of Congress is indicative of DeMint’s genuine commitment to what most consider traditional Republican principles. Likewise, that GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell so vehemently opposes Paul and has so enthusiastically endorsed his opponent is indicative of his commitment to the Republican status quo-at the expense of genuine conservatism.

Rand Paul has gone from relative obscurity to a serious contender for the US Senate because he has articulated a sound, common sense conservative message at an uncommon time. There is a genuine, rising fear about runaway spending and debt today, and whereas Republicans in the past have been able to convince voters they loved guns or loathed gays enough for constituents to ignore their big government records, the current Tea Party-influenced political environment seems to be, finally, a rejection of that never-ending cycle. The Tea Party folks in Kentucky and those who sympathize with them, see supporting Paul as a chance to tell Washington they’re not going to take it anymore. The problem is the Republican establishment wants these voters to keep taking it.

DeMint, to his conservative credit, has been taking action. Writes Marc Theissen of the Washington Post: “(DeMint) is interested in helping underdog conservatives get a chance in the primaries against the hand-picked candidates of the establishment.” As a calculated and practical matter, DeMint reserved his endorsement until McConnell gave his endorsement to Paul’s opponent, Trey Grayson. The American Conservative correctly identified the divide: “It’s a fight between the party elite and the populist grassroots, and it has deep significance.”

A deep significance indeed. For nearly a decade, the Republican Party was wrecked by the big spending, war-loving neoconservatives who ran the Bush administration, most of whom have never changed their tune on statism or foreign policy and are anxious for rank-and-file conservatives to love them again, just like before-without question. A Senator Paul could be an enduring and troublesome, big, fat question mark, the GOP brass knows it, and opposes him accordingly. The GOP of George W. Bush was first and foremost a war party and Paul’s deviation from the neoconservatives on foreign policy, similar to that of his father, is what seems to trouble the establishment most, even if they don’t come right out and say it. The American Conservative noted the distinction in analyzing Dick Cheney’s endorsement of Paul’s opponent, Trey Grayson: “In his endorsement, Cheney said ‘it is clear to me that Grayson is right on the issues that matter-both on fiscal responsibility and on national security,’ but it’s no secret where the former VP’s interest lies. Dating to his days in the Ford administration, Cheney has always put concentrating power in the executive branch and a bellicose foreign policy first on his agenda.” Liberal Republican Rudy Giuliani who pretended to be a conservative during the 2008 presidential primaries by promising to bomb more countries and torture more people than his opponents, has also endorsed Grayson for what most would assume are the same foreign policy reasons.

What’s interesting is that DeMint, by and large, does not share Paul’s foreign policy views, yet does not consider Paul beyond the pale and considers him preferable to Grayson, much unlike McConnell, Cheney and Giuliani. In his book “Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism,” DeMint warns against the dangers of big government by explaining, “our greatest enemy is not a foreign government or even a terrorist group.” Neocons Cheney and Giuliani would never utter such a thing and McConnell probably wouldn’t either, and yet DeMint sees big government as a top priority despite any foreign policy disagreements with Paul-while the old Republican guard still sees foreign policy as the only priority from which there can be no disagreement. The war party, indeed.

And it’s not just the politicians. The mainstream conservative media ignores or holds Paul at arm’s length just as much as the Republican establishment mostly because those media figures are little more than GOP spokesman. For example, Paul has been endorsed by frequent Sean Hannity guest Steve Forbes, former governor Sarah Palin, the senator Paul is seeking to replace, Republican Jim Bunning, evangelical leader James Dobson and now conservative hero DeMint-yet he is still ignored. If Sarah Palin takes Todd, Trig and the grandkids to the Waffle House, Hannity is ready to do a multi-part TV series about it-and yet when she endorses a popular Tea Party candidate waging a heroic, underdog campaign, it’s as if the Kentucky senate race doesn’t even exist. We already know McConnell, Cheney and Giuliani wish Paul didn’t exist, and in his silence we must believe Hannity shares their sentiment-and for the same reasons.

Thankfully Jim DeMint disagrees, who said this week “I’m endorsing Rand Paul because he’s a true conservative who will stand up to the Washington establishment.” A Senator Paul would be a great tag team partner for DeMint and if conservatives are lucky, Rand might even rub off on Jim a little concerning foreign policy-giving the Washington establishment a fight they certainly don’t want and won’t soon forget.