Ronald Reagan: How possible GOP presidential candidates measure up
Ronald Reagan, who would have turned 100 on Sunday, is uniquely revered by Republicans. In this year of Reagan nostalgia, those jockeying for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination could vie for his mantle.
When moderator Grover Norquist asked the five candidates seeking the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee to name their hero in a debate last month, he issued one restriction: someone other than Ronald Reagan.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, had he not said that, all five likely would have voted for the 40th president in lock step. President Reagan, who would have turned 100 years old on Sunday, still holds a unique place of reverence for Republicans. One candidate managed to sneak Reagan in anyway. When asked to name his favorite book, Reince Priebus – now RNC chairman – chose The Reagan Diaries.
So in this year of Reagan nostalgia, a competition to assume the mantle of the Republican icon – a “Reagan primary” of sorts – could break out among the Republicans jockeying (or thinking of jockeying) for their party’s 2012 presidential nomination. Here’s the state of play among 10 possible contenders:
Sarah Palin has been favorably compared to Reagan. Of all the possible candidates who have hinted at a run, she’s the most charismatic – but also highly divisive, as Reagan was. Also like Reagan, Ms. Palin will never pass for a policy wonk. Reagan stood for clear, simple conservative principles, as Palin does today.
In contrast, Palin does not have the resume Reagan did. He served two full terms as governor of California. Palin quit as governor of Alaska after 2-1/2 years. But in the most important difference, Palin has not been able to attract Democratic support, a skill that helped Reagan to the presidency.
Mitt Romney, too, has certain Reaganesque qualities. The former Massachusetts governor has the looks (and the hair) and the sunny disposition. Somehow, though, the wealthy Mr. Romney has never managed to connect with regular folks the way Reagan did. And assuming he runs for president again, Romney will still have to answer for his old moderate views, including the Massachusetts health-care reform that served as a model for President Obama’s. Reagan, too, moved to the right as he entered national politics, but his conservative bona fides were never questioned.
Mike Huckabee is another former governor who may run for president again. He shares Reagan’s affability, and skill as a broadcaster and folksy communicator. But as governor of Arkansas, he at times acted as a social liberal – signing, for example, legislation that would provide health insurance to low-income children. Of late, he has been a vocal supporter of Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, in contrast with some Republicans (like Palin) who call it government overreach.
Tim Pawlenty is yet another former governor who has clearly telegraphed that he’s running. He holds the distinction of coming from the one state – Minnesota – that did not vote for Reagan in his 1984 reelection. But Pawlenty has the Reagan affability, if not the charisma, and small-government record that could give him some appeal.