SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Believe it or not, the 2012 race for the White House will soon be off and running. In the next few month, a pretty large group of Republicans will announce they're running for their party's presidential nomination.
You can bet that at some point, each one will invoke the name of President Ronald Reagan. You can definitely tell when a Republican is running for president. It's all in the name dropping.
"I began working with Ronald Reagan in 1974," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
"Ronald Reagan was something more than just a policy monk. He was a man who loved this country and he inspired this country to believe in itself again," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said.
"There's no question, the older I get, the smarter Ronald Reagan gets," former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said.
Finding Another Reagan?
But will there ever be another Ronald Reagan? Some say former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has a Reagan-esque quality.
"Everyone wants to find the next Ronald Reagan. Where is he/she? Is she around anywhere?" CBN News recently asked Palin.
"There is no one individual for Ronald Reagan," she responded. "He was so one of a kind. But there are so many Americans who believe in the great ideas he believed in, that he espoused. And I thank God for that."
Many of the potential 2012 presidential contenders came to Reagan's ranch north of Santa Barbara in February. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. Palin visited a few weeks ago. Gingrich and others have come to the ranch quite often, too.
It is at this ranch where many who knew Reagan say you really get a window into his soul when you're trying to search for what he was all about."
So what is it exactly that made Reagan unique? He had a great sense of humor and was known for being a great communicator.
"Thomas Jefferson once said, 'We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.' And ever since he told me that I stopped worrying. Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all 13 states," Reagan once quipped.
But, though a former actor, Reagan wasn't just playing a part. There was more to his leadership.
"The secret to Reagan was he was an actor who actually read a lot of books, went out and explained them on the General Electric speaking tour, gave hundreds of speeches, engaged in many policy discussions," Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund said. "He really was a substantive person by the time he entered politics."
Even Reagan's critics admit he was genuine. He could mix being a nice guy and a strong leader.
"Unlike other politicians, his word was his deed," Palin told CBN News. "It was one and the same. He said what he meant and he meant what he said, and that was so unlike any other politicians in America."
Talk about boldness. Imagine a president today giving a near gospel presentation from the Oval Office. But that's just what Reagan did during one of his Christmas messages in the early 1980s.
"Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that he was and is the promised Prince of Peace," Reagan told the television audience.
While no presidential candidate stands out today as the next Reagan, there have been comparisons to the Gipper in some respects.
Palin fans claim she has Reagan's principled demeanor. Supporters of Huckabee point to his folksy disposition and use of humor. Romney could claim the matinee idol look.
Others simply spout Reagan's public policy positions. But it will take more than looks, laughs, and rhetoric to claim the nomination and ultimately the president's office.
"Lots of Republican politicians can hold the same policy positions, but why do we want one over the other?" Fund asked.
"I think the reason they harken back to Reagan is not only his heroic achievements, but his clear integrity, honesty, and strength of character." he continued. "That's not something you can just say you have. You have to demonstrate it."
Even President Obama has tried to wear the Reagan mantle. But Fund says it's hard when your message doesn't resonate with the majority of Americans.
"Look at Reagan's farewell address. He said, 'they called me the Great Communicator.' But he said, 'I wasn't the great communicator. I communicated great ideas,'" Fund explained.
"Obama is a very good and competent speech maker, often inspirational, especially with a teleprompter. But what is he saying?" he continued. "It's not connecting with the American people. It's not in the American tradition," he added.
The Reagan Response
The Republican politician tradition is paying homage whenever possible, especially if you want to lead the party. At a recent debate of Republican candidates for the RNC Chairmanship, host Grover Norquist asked the candidates, "Who is your favorite Republican president?"
Everyone of the six candidates replied, "Ronald Reagan."
"OK, everybody got that one right," Norquist responded as the audience chuckled.
While that answer may be obvious, findng the next Ronald Reagan is not.