That uncertainty is one reason we see so much yearning among Republicans for another Reagan. "I'm always asked, 'When will we see somebody like Reagan again?'" says Peter Hannaford, a longtime Reagan aide and author of "Recollections of Reagan." "My answer is never. He was sui generis. Someday, you'll have somebody with some of his qualities and with that bigger-than-life aspect -- but not yet."
Meanwhile, Republicans are very much living in Reagan's party. For Craig Shirley, the longtime conservative activist and author of "Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America," today's GOP still reflects the man who was elected president more than 30 years ago. Back then, so-called "country-club Republicans" were a powerful force in the party. "All these moderate-to-liberal Republicans considered conservatism the province of Neanderthals," recalls Shirley, who is a consultant to The Examiner. Now, it's the moderates who are virtually extinct. The result, Shirley believes, is "a more vigorous debate and a more honest choice for the American people."
Starting soon, state and county Republican parties will be holding their yearly Lincoln Day dinners, the way Democrats hold Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. In recent years, many of those GOP events have become Lincoln-Reagan Day dinners, or just Reagan Day dinners. That trend will likely continue as the party seeks an even closer identification with past greatness.
And Republican politicians will continue to seek that elusive mix of attributes that made Reagan Reagan. Perhaps there is another great leader out there right now, and we don't know it. After all, no one knew what Reagan would accomplish until he moved into the Oval Office.
So on May 2, the GOP candidates -- a group that could include Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, Sarah Palin and others -- will take the stage at the Reagan Library and try to convince Republicans that they are worthy heirs to Ronald Reagan. The audience will undoubtedly be skeptical, but inwardly hoping that at least one of them will be right.