Craig Shirley

Aspirants to the mantle of Ronald Reagan will gather tonight at his presidential library to debate who among them is his most worthy heir.

One person who won't be participating in the debate in Simi Valley is the incumbent President. Indeed, in an insightful poll conducted by Strategic Vision in five states, Republicans were asked if George W. Bush is in the mold of the Gipper. From a "low" of 62 percent to a high of 78 percent, Republicans said, no, Bush is no Reaganite.

Ronald Reagan so thoroughly dominates the Republican Party that no one calls themselves a "Ford" Republican let alone "Nixon" Republican. Instead, the terms are thrown around like epithets, to identify the corrupt or inept—there are plenty of both to go around. Reagan's name has so much power in the Republican Party that so-called Republican lobbyists on K Street invoke his name to convince Republican lawmakers to do very un-Republican things.

But who really was the man that commands so much reverence from the GOP faithful and their leaders?

Reagan was an utterly charming, articulate and kind man. The witty and graceful man Americans saw in public was the same man in private, unlike so many phony politicians of today. His staff adored him. But this is not the only thing that made Ronald Reagan unique and beloved by millions. He said what he meant and meant what he said and was always clear in what in what he said. Reagan was a man with an absolute belief in his ideas but he was principled not rigid in his ideas. He learned from experience and applied those new ideas to policy through his principled framework of anti-communism, less government and more freedom.

Reagan was not always a tax cutter. He only embraced supply-side economics a few years before he ran in 1980. He applied his stalwart anti-communism by building up the US military but Reagan preferred to use his bully pulpit to persuade rather than engage the Kremlin in a shooting war. He spoke directly to the millions enslaved behind the Iron Curtain when he told them time and again that their slave masters were evil and America was on their side. He also brilliantly decided, in alliance Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher, to undermine communist authority through indigenous anti-communist movements—Solidarity in Poland, dissidents like Vaclav Havel throughout the Eastern bloc and the Contras in Nicaragua. Reagan put Soviet communism under the heel of his cowboy boot and crushed it.

Craig Shirley

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer, a presidential historian and Chairman of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. His firm is assisting Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.