Reagan Kids Reject GOP Heirs to Father's Conservative Legacy

Ronald Reagan's surviving children say their father was one of a kind.

Feb. 8, 2011— -- Channeling Ronald Reagan has become an obsession of the nation's leading conservative political figures, including many who are likely candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Former Alaksa Gov. Sarah Palin considers herself a "western conservative in the spirit of Ronald Reagan."

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, compares his Pennsylvania roots to Reagan's in Tampico, Ill. And, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, among others, credits Reagan as an inspiration to "fight for conservative causes."

But ask the 40th president's three surviving children -- Michael and Ron Reagan and Patti Davis -- whether any of their father's potential Republican successors could claim the Reagan mantle, and they say no way.

Is Sarah Palin the next Ronald Reagan?

"You've got to be kidding me," Patti Davis said in an interview with ABC News' "This Week."

"Sarah Palin has nothing in common with my father," said Ron Reagan, Davis' younger brother and a political liberal. "Sarah Palin is a soap opera."

Where does Gingrich stand?

"In some dank little basement somewhere or some fantasy world in his own head," he added.

"You must be kidding me," Davis said of the comparison of Gingrich to her father. "No!"

Michael Reagan, a Republican strategist, said simply that no one matches up.

"I'm not going to down that road because I don't see anyone in Ronald Reagan's image," he said. "He was one of a kind."

While the Reagan children have found the comparisons -- and the extent to which politicians will go to make them -- highly amusing, they say they are intrinsically contrary to Reagan's personal philosophy.

"I remember when I was a kid, my father saw an ad somewhere for 'real simulated diamonds' and he was chuckling and laughing about this. He thought it was so funny that they would put together those two words, real and simulated. And I remember him saying: 'You think people are stupid? Do they think people don't know what the word simulated means?'" Davis said. "I think he would have had the same reaction to people trying to imitate him."

Trying to Out-Reagan Reagan

Reagan's three children say the infatuation with their father's legacy is perhaps most reflective of the Republican Party's search for a unifying figure, a leader to chart a path forward.

"Everybody's trying to out-Reagan themselves," said Michael Reagan, an adopted son of the late president. "They're quoting my father, which is wonderful. But they've got to find their own voice and who they are. And I think a mistake that we make as conservatives is by looking for the next Ronald Reagan.

"We may very well walk right past the next great leader of our movement," he said.

Michael Reagan said he believes that next leader may emerge from the Tea Party, which he said is the best current example of his father's vision in action.

"My dad would be supportive of grassroots America rising up and saying we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," he said.

Ron Reagan and Patti Davis sharply disagree, calling the Tea Party's message "extreme" and contrary to their father's principles.

"My brother is, perhaps, more comfortable speaking for him [Ronald Reagan] than I am," Ron Reagan said. "The vitriol that's directed at the White House from some sectors now, I think would really disquiet him. He would think that was unworthy of this country and he would find it disturbing."

But even on the Tea Party, the Reagan children find ground to agree: Their father's brand of politics was different from the all-or-nothing, uncompromising partisanship that exists today.

They say President Reagan knew how to reach across the aisle and form real bonds and lasting partnerships with Democrats, like House Speaker Tip O'Neill, who rushed to the hospital when the president was shot.

"O'Neill somehow manages to get himself into the hospital room ... and my father is asleep at the time, and he goes and kneels by the bed, apparently, and begins to recite the Lord's Prayer," Ron Reagan said. "My father wakes up and hears him and sees him there and begins reciting it with him. And before O'Neill leaves, he takes my father's hand and kisses it and he says, 'God bless you, Mr. President.' Now can you imagine John Boehner doing that with Barack Obama? I can't. And I think that's a sad thing."