With President Obama unchallenged for his party's nomination, the action is all on the Republican side of the aisle this time around. And while the candidates have a few differences between them, the one thing in common that they have all tried to do is to invoke the message and spirit of former president Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan has really become the "patron saint" of the Republican party and is the standard that all candidates attempt to hold themselves to and the electorate seemingly demands from any Republican candidates. In one sense this is understandable as Reagan has really achieved near-mythic status in the political pantheon.
So Newt Gingrich will often remind listeners that he was a member of the "Reagan Revolution" and as a congressman helped enact Reagan's agenda. Rick Santorum used the phrase "city on a hill" during his election night speech in Iowa; a phrase that has become synonymous with Reagan and his vision for America. Ron Paul said that he "stood with Reagan" while Rick Perry (then a Democrat) supported Al Gore in 1988. Mitt Romney has proposed something he calls a "Reagan Economic Zone" in his jobs plan.
The interesting thing I've noticed is this-as I have studied Ronald Reagan I don't recall he tying himself to any other former president or politician, in the way that so many politicians are doing today. I've yet to read a speech where Reagan said, "Dwight Eisenhower was a friend of mine. We worked together. If you elect me, I will bring Ike back to the White House." I've not seen a comment from the former President saying that he would create a "Nixon Economic Zone."
Ronald Reagan was his own man, with his own unique vision, mission and purpose. He didn't seek the presidency to become the next Teddy Roosevelt, Ike, Gerald Ford or even Abraham Lincoln. He sought the presidency to be the first Ronald Reagan. This meant he often butted heads with the Republican establishment, both in 1976 when he ran against the incumbent President Gerald Ford in the GOP primary and in 1980 when the establishment was initially aghast when it became clear that Reagan would defeat George H.W. Bush for the nomination.
When people thought he was nuts for calling the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire", Reagan knew he was speaking the truth. When the State Department told him to take out the part of his Berlin speech when he implored then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin wall, he left it in. When he told his staffers that he thought the U.S. could defeat Soviet communism, they didn't share his optimism...until the USSR collapsed and the Berlin Wall was torn down. Reagan was, indeed, his own man.
As you and I think about how to succeed in our lives, perhaps we could take a lesson from the playbook of the 40th president and say that instead of trying to be someone else, maybe we should focus on being who we were created to be and doing the things that we were uniquely created to do. After all, if I were Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich et. al, my goal would be to have made such an impact that people wanted to be the next Mitt or Newt and not simply Reagan 5.0.
Being his own man and charting his own course worked for Ronald Reagan...and, on our own individual journeys, it can work for us too.
-Rommel is the president of The Relationship Difference-a corporate speaking, training and consulting firm.