BOWLING GREEN — It was just more than a year ago that county Republicans here were looking for a keynote speaker for their Lincoln Day dinner.
To their disappointment, the man they wanted, the presidential candidate who calls Warren County home, had a previous commitment.
He was playing golf with Donald Trump.
That was when Sen. Rand Paul was standing near the top of the polls, wearing the uncomfortable label of way-too-early front-runner and enjoying all the buzz that status afforded, including a tee time with Trump at one of his resorts in Florida.
Now, his campaign taking on serious water, Paul has turned 180 degrees, making it clear — in his first debate performance, in remarks over the weekend and in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon — that going forward he plans to focus his attacks on Trump.
So why now?
Before his conference call Monday, Paul stood in front of an Autotronic Bingo King board at a local American Legion, the kind of place where the American flag is displayed proudly and a sticker of "Hanoi Jane" Fonda serves as a bull's-eye in the urinal.
Paul took questions about the VA and helping veterans get benefits; afterward he trotted out his anti-Trump message in a brief gaggle with reporters.
But just a few weeks ago, when Trump caused mouths to drop wide open by questioning whether U.S. Sen. John McCain was a war hero, Paul offered only a single tweet in support of his adversary McCain.
He did not mention Trump.
And what about Trump's kick-off speech, when he broadly referred to some undocumented immigrants as "rapists"? Surely the self-appointed ambassador of minority outreach for the Republican Party would speak out when Trump risked undoing everything Paul had spent two years working to achieve.
"I've tried to talk about what my plan is for immigration so I don't get trapped into talking about what 20 other people are saying about immigration," Paul said at the time.
But that was then, and this is now. And Paul's presidential campaign isn't doing so well.
His poll numbers are dropping everywhere. Two of his top allies were indicted last week by a federal grand jury for their alleged roles in a bribery scheme dating to his father's 2012 presidential campaign.
His fundraising is anemic, at best; at worst, it's a cause for concern considering he's also running for re-election to the Senate.
So why talk about Trump now? The better question might be: What else would you want to talk about if you're Rand Paul?
After Monday's event, Paul was asked if he had spoken with family member and longtime aide Jesse Benton since Benton was indicted last week.
"No," Paul said.
Does he think the indictments might hurt his campaign?
"Not really," he said.
OK, so why turn on Trump now, despite all the opportunities to do so in the past, despite that round of golf?
"The debates came forward, and I think it's time to mix it up and show the differences," Paul answered.
During the conference call a few minutes later, Paul expanded on that point, saying Trump's past support for President Barack Obama's health care law and gun control means Trump is a "fake conservative."
"People have to wonder whether (these) newfound beliefs of Donald Trump are real or just part of his reality show shtick," Paul said.
At every turn, Paul prefaced his attack on Trump by noting that Paul "came from the Tea Party movement," a clear attempt to reconnect with a base that appears to be candidate-shopping.
Paul cast himself as the lone Republican willing to stand up to the "bully" Trump.
Of course, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and others in the crowded Republican field didn't wait until last week to take issue with some of Trump's more controversial statements. It hasn't done them much good, though. Perry lost polling support to the point he was moved from the top-tier debate stage to the "happy hour" debate last week, and Rubio has decided he no longer wants to talk about Trump.
But at least one person is ready to join Paul in making the switch from Team Trump.
Barbara Eljizi, a former Marine, approached Paul after Monday's event to tell Paul that she was backing him now, though it didn't have anything to do with Paul's "newfound" mistrust of The Donald.
"I like Donald Trump because he's straightforward," Eljizi said. "But I think there's a time when you have to say not too much."
Eljizi, who said she lost faith in Obama when he wouldn't admit he is Muslim and who thinks Osama bin Laden is alive, said she likes Paul because she "can tell by his face he's speaking from the heart."
"He's honest," she said.
When a reporter asked Paul if he was going after Trump now because his own campaign was struggling, Paul said he was "still very pleased" with where his campaign is.
"I have a feeling this race will go up and down many times until it's over," Paul said.
He's probably right about that, but it seems clear from Paul's criticisms of Trump that the Kentucky senator is down right now and looking for any possible way to "go up."
Why else would he turn on his golf partner?
Trump takes to Twitter to respond to attacks
If Rand Paul's goal was to get Donald Trump's attention, it seems that mission has been accomplished.
On Monday night, just hours after Paul held a conference call with reporters for the express purpose of calling out Trump as a "fake conservative," Trump took to Twitter to respond.
"Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain," Trump tweeted. "He was terrible at DEBATE!"
At last week's debate, Paul went after Trump from the opening moments, accusing the real estate developer of "hedging his bet" by refusing to rule out running as an independent candidate.
Since then, Paul has made attacking Trump a focus in remarks on the campaign trail and on Fox News Sunday.
Paul, Kentucky's junior senator, has faced a number of setbacks since entering the race for the Republican presidential nomination in April, and his new focus on Trump comes as polls show him losing support and two of his top allies were indicted last week.
In his responses Monday night, Trump seemed to know where to find one of Paul's soft spots, referencing Paul's efforts to get around a state law that would prohibit him from running for both the presidency and re-election to U.S. Senate seat simultaneously next year.
"Why is @RandPaul allowed to take advantage of the people of Kentucky by running for Senator and Pres.," Trump tweeted. "Why should Kentucky be back up plan?"
— Sam Youngman, email@example.com