As we approach the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth on February 6, it seems that the most common question conservatives ask is whether anyone can unite the Right the way Reagan did. In 2008, during the GOP primaries, National Review Online held a symposium on the question: “Is the Reagan coalition dead?” Respondents, including Terence P. Jeffrey, Paul Kengor, Mark R. Levin, John O’Sullivan, John J. Pitney, Mark Rozell, and Peter Schweizer, disagreed over whether such a thing was possible, but all agreed that Reagan was the driving force that had put the coalition together. As Rozell wrote in his entry, “Reagan was the leading force in legitimizing conservative ideas long mocked, and in putting the modern conservative movement into the mainstream.”
It is undeniable that Reagan’s intellectual legacy continues to shape the Republican party. Even as conservatives have serious and significant disagreements — there are neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, libertarians, social conservatives, tea partiers, and other strains — nearly all of them admire and seek to emulate Reagan. It cannot be true that Reagan would have agreed with all of them all of the time, but each of these factions has a legitimate claim to parts of his intellectual legacy. And Reagan would likely add that a robust debate on the right is good reason for optimism about the future of the conservative movement and America.