Ronald Reagan at 100: Former President's Indelible Mark on American Politics

VIDEO: Director Eugene Jarecki discusses his new HBO film about the 40th president.
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He left office more than two decades ago, but former President Ronald Reagan's mark on American politics has yet to fade.

Reagan, whose 100th birthday anniversary, is being celebrated across the country, has become more relevant than ever, with Republicans in control of the House and a recession still gripping the United States.

"Everyone tries to grab the Reagan mantle because it's one of strong leadership, big ideas, bold stories," said Ken Duberstein, Reagan's last White House chief of staff.

The former President's name is repeatedly invoked by conservative politicians -- Mitt Romney urged supporters to " take inspiration from Ronald Reagan" while out on the campaign trail.

Sarah Palin has called him "one of my heroes and one of yours" and has used his name during rallies.

Even Democrats tout his leadership. Barack Obama once said "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America."

But it's typically Republicans that grasp onto the former president's message. Some may even be trying to position themselves as his successor.

"He was that cowboy from the West who set out to change our country," and went on to change the world, Duberstein said.

The impact of the Reagan era extends beyond politics. There's the Reagan Airport outside Washington, D.C., which thousands of passengers fly into and out of every day, and the Reagan Library where scholars come to study.

But Reagan's presence is felt nowhere more strongly than inside his own party.

"He was the president that everything was modeled after," said Ed Rollins, who ran Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, when he swept 49 states.

"I mean even to the point where we used to have Lincoln dinners -- now we have Lincoln-Reagan dinners," Rollins said

Reagan's place in politics actually seems to have grown in the years since his death at age 93.

Romney, in a 2007 speech, remarked that "Reagan keeps getting smarter."

More than just smarter; his name has become somewhat of a mantra of Republican politics.

Romney's book "No Apology" mentions Reagan 11 times. Tim Pawlenty drops Reagan's name 24 times, in his book "Courage to Stand." Palin's book "America by Heart" mentions the former president 33 times, her "Going Rogue," 34 times.

That's not even counting a book by Newt Gingrich exclusively about Ronald Reagan.

Ranking Today's Politicians on the Reagan Scale

Duberstein gives some of the credit to Reagan's conservative vision.

"Government isn't the solution to all problems," he said. "Have faith in the American people."

And, Duberstein said, he truly was the great communicator, calling him "the happy warrior."

"He knew who he was," Rollins said. "He knew how to speak.

"There is a big difference between a written word and a spoken word," he said. "He clearly understood the spoken word."

Duberstein said Reagan was like a cowboy hero from the movies.

"He was in some ways the Lone Ranger," he said. "You walked into a room, you knew he was there. He never had to pull his gun, but he had it in his holster."

Those who knew Reagan tried to figure out which politician today most closely matches the qualities of the powerhouse president. Rollins gave Mike Huckabee -- his former boss in the interest of full disclosure -- an eight or a nine on a scale of 10.

"He's not quite as good as Ronald Reagan, but he's better than anyone else around," Rollins said.

He went on to give Romney a seven, saying he's a "good communicator."

But wait.

"Can't see him in a cowboy hat and boots," Rollins said, "so I'd give him a five."

But Duberstein said he isn't confident there's a candidate to match the Gipper.

"I'm not sure anyone can succeed in being Ronald Reagan," he said.

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