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
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.
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:
Reagan's 100th birthday: 10 defining moments
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