Let the 2016 Reagan wars begin.
As we enter another Republican presidential primary season, it’s an easy bet that the contenders will compare themselves to former President Ronald Reagan, each with a lofty explanation about how they’re the one who can make it Morning Again in America.
But which one of the possible contenders is most likely to govern like the Gipper?
For the answer, we turned to Crowdpac, a group started by Stanford University political scientists that ranks politicians on an ideological scale between liberal and conservative by examining public statements, voting records, donors and their own giving to other candidates.
Crowdpac issues politicians a score on a scale of 0-10, zero being the most moderate and 10 being the most conservative. (Democrats are ranked on the same scale, but the 10-score for them goes from moderate to liberal.) Of course, ideological rating systems that compare a combination of political actors—governors, senators, House members, former presidents and private citizens–are never perfect. But Crowdpac’s analysts say their system of tracking money in politics is one of the best way to predict how a politician will vote on an issue.
Here we go!
For Reagan, Crowdpac issued a score of 7C, placing him a little to the right of the Republican middle.
By this measurement, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry nestles the nearest to the Gipper, ideologically, with a score of 6.9C. (Congrats!) Coming in a close second, with a score of 6.7C is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, followed by Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon.
Meanwhile, Crowdpac’s award for the least Reaganesque White House hopeful goes to the most moderate Republican in the field, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (2.5C). Christie is also the most moderate candidate of either party currently considering a run for the White House. Next furthest from Reagan, according to Crowdpac’s model, is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (4.2C), former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (4.7C) and Mitt Romney (5.0C), the party’s presidential nominee in 2012.
All of the potential candidates have invoked and heaped praise on Reagan in one way or another, some more aggressively than others.
Perry, who spoke at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. in October, Perry took to the pages of the Washington Post to attack Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on foreign policy by saying he would be nothing like Reagan.
In a National Review essay last year, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gushed that Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” address was “A Speech for all Time.” Rubio spoke at the Reagan Library in 2011, where he famously rescued former First Lady Nancy Reagan from a fall while walking her to her seat.
Christie also spoke at the Reagan Library in 2011, where he praised him for working with Democrats and passing immigration reform, two pieces of his legacy that conservatives ignore or point to as a darker point of his presidency.
LIke Christie, Bush has also praised Reagan’s willingness to compromise. Bush’s father, former President Geroge H.W. Bush, served as vice president under both of Reagan’s terms.
“He embodied the strength, perseverance and faith that has propelled immigrants for centuries to embark on dangerous journeys to come here, to give up all that was familiar for all that was possible,” Christie said. “His commitment to making America stronger, better and more resilient is what allowed him the freedom to challenge conventional wisdom, reach across party lines and dare to put results ahead of political opportunism.”
Rand Paul stands at the other end of the Crowdpac scale, several points to the right of Reagan. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Walker are a few steps closer, followed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
“I’m a great believer in Ronald Reagan,” Paul has said. Despite his praise, Paul has also been critical of the Republican icon–from the right.
“Spending rose more dramatically under Reagan than it did under Carter,” Paul said during a 2009 speech at Western Kentucky University, a year before he became senator. “You say, ‘Well, Reagan’s a conservative. Carter’s a liberal.’ It’s not necessarily always what it seems.”
Regardless of who ends up running, all the GOP candidates will pay a visit together to the Reagan Library in September for a presidential debate hosted by CNN.