In March 2014, Ted Cruz of Texas sought to separate himself from his Senate colleague from Kentucky by invoking the name of Ronald Reagan. “I’m a big fan of Rand Paul,” he said, but “I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world…just as Ronald Reagan did.” Paul quickly responded in kind: “I’m a great believer in Ronald Reagan. I’m a great believer in a strong national defense.”
Four months later, Paul claimed that his opposition to the new American military intervention in Iraq reflected the wisdom of the Reagan administration’s approach. Governor Rick Perry of Texas objected to this analysis, observing in the Washington Post that it “conveniently omitted Reagan’s long internationalist record of leading the world with moral and strategic clarity.”
In mid-September, Senator Marco Rubio made the case for rebuilding American defenses by invoking the example of Ronald Reagan—who, like George Washington before him, “viewed the construction of a strong military not as a preparation for aggression, but as an action to prevent aggression.”
So here are four potential GOP candidates for the 2016 presidential election, each appropriating the name of Reagan to validate his own views. They are hardly the only Republicans who do so, and foreign policy is hardly the only area in which it is done. Clearly, anyone seeking to lead today’s Republican Party—in whatever direction, and on almost any topic—feels compelled to invoke a posthumous seal of approval from the man Rush Limbaugh calls “Ronaldo Maximus.” Now, a decade after his death and 34 years after he was first elected president, Ronald Reagan remains, if not the emperor, then the patron saint of the Grand Old Party and of American conservatism. As Paul himself said puckishly, “Every Republican likes to think he or she is the next Ronald Reagan.”
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