To Reagan, or Not to Reagan: GOP Split on Party Icon

By Gorman Gorman

May 7, 2009 3:12pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: As Republican leaders look for a path forward in the era of Obama, they’re having a bit of trouble deciding on the role of one figure from the not-to-distant past. Ronald Reagan has long been a GOP icon. But does he have a role in a party that’s looking for a way to re-brand? That depends on whom you ask. The debate was touched off in part by former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., who suggested at the kick-off event for a new Republican messaging venture over the weekend that it’s time to move past the "nostalgia" of the Reagan years. "Our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant," said Bush, whose father was Reagan’s vice president. "I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it’s great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause." But one of the men who sat next to Gov. Bush on Saturday has a much different take. "We need to be talking about conservative principles. We need to take a page out of Ronald Reagan’s book," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on ABCNews.com’s "Top Line" Wednesday. "He was the one that went out and said, you know what, we’ve gotta convince the American people that the conservative way is a much better way for our country. And we will see it return to prosperity if we follow the common sense conservative principles that he was about and that we know this country was founded upon." This is all part of a broader debate about whether the party needs to be broadening its base or rediscovering its roots to adjust to new realities. It’s also, in a way, generational. Cantor, 45, is often called a Republican rising star. Yet he has direct memories of the Reagan era that a younger generation — a generation that’s been more likely to join the Democratic Party than the one before it — doesn’t. Rep. Patrick McHenry, 33, tells Time’s Michael Grunwald that it’s time to move on. Grunwald writes that McHenry, "a conservative who keeps a bust of Reagan on his desk, surprised me by declaring that the Reagan era is over." "Marginal tax rates are the lowest they’ve been in generations, and all we can talk about is tax cuts," said McHenry, R-N.C. "The people’s desires have changed, but we’re still stuck in our old issue set." Even sharper are the comments of Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill. — at 27, the youngest member of Congress, and the first and so far only member born during the Reagan presidency. "For someone in their 20s and even in their 30s, [Reagan] was not a relevant figure as we were growing up, because he’s in the history," Schock said on Fox News this week. "And we have to be a party about the future. Our message has to be about the future and how our policies are best for the future of our country." 

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