"My hero Ronald Reagan ..." were the very first words of a recent fund-raising pitch e-mail from former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. He went on to not-at-all-subtly quote our 40th president --"The future belongs to the free" -- and commented: "This statement captures what so many Americans admired about President Reagan -- his optimistic leadership, his belief in building a better future, and his continued focus on freedom."
Why does every Republican presidential candidate want to be the next Reagan? And why is Ronald Reagan is exactly what conservatives seem to be craving most. Paul Kengor, author of "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism," says "Reagan was able to unify and uplift the party ... (largely) through three essential dynamics that George W. Bush does not possess and which all contenders for 2008 and beyond will find frustratingly elusive: communication, personality and a single winning issue he pursued with tremendous success."
Reagan's magic was his skill for communication, the same communication George W. Bush, despite all his brave leadership on Iraq, lacks. As Kengor vents to me, he channels the frustrations of many conservative supporters of the Iraq war: "This administration seems almost afraid to respond to its harshest critics, as if fearful it will offend The New York Times. There seems to be a complete inability by the president's staff to create helpful images for their president."
It's great to know Reagan inspired everyone. But when everyone from Republican Mike Huckabee to Democrat Barack Obama is praising Reagan, the winner will be the candidate who embodies the best of Reagan's character: perseverance, optimism and authenticity.