Reagan at 100 Casts Shadow over Republican Party
Policy + Politics

Reagan at 100 Casts Shadow over Republican Party

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Ronald Reagan is remembered as a transformative president, the creator of the contemporary Republican Party and the very definition of conservatism. He might also be as misunderstood by some of his followers as he is underappreciated by his detractors.

Reagan, who died in 2004, is the object of both mythmaking and revisionism. As his presidency has undergone examination and reevaluation by conservative and liberal scholars, his place in history has grown larger.

His iconic stature among conservatives is a source of inspiration for a Republican Party that, despite its victories in November, still hungers to recapture the high points of his presidency. Yet to many Republicans, Reagan nostalgia is an obstacle to the party's hopes of moving forward in a different time with challenges different from those of the 1980s.

Reagan's leadership style blended conviction, flexibility, toughness and optimism. Those who try to pinpoint a single attribute to explain Reagan's success often overlook other facets of his political persona that were equally significant. And although he helped fuel the conservative ascendancy, he was not, in the estimation of scholars, a conventional conservative, certainly not by today's standards.

Steven F. Hayward, a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of two volumes under the title "The Age of Reagan," said that accepting the 40th president's unique qualities is key to understanding his impact and influence. "His particular brand of conservatism, was idiosyncratic," Hayward said, adding: "He was unconventional even from a conservative point of view."

Sean Wilentz, a liberal historian at Princeton University and the author of "The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008," said Reagan's New Deal roots, California perspective and conservative convictions combined to form a package that cannot be easily replicated. "He was a Reaganite," Wilentz said. "Maybe the only Reaganite."

Lou Cannon, the journalist and Reagan biographer whose book "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" was on President Obama's holiday reading list, questioned whether Reagan would be comfortable with the elements of today's Republican Party who demand near-purity as the measure of a true conservative.

Read more at The Washington Post.