2012 GOP Hopefuls Harken Back to Reagan Days

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Several notable Republicans are harkening back to the 1980's, while looking forward to 2012. On what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, potential GOP presidential hopefuls are attending events remembering the former president. But along with adoration, some are seeking to compare themselves to the popular political figure and taking jabs at the current White House.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was perhaps the most pointed. At a Reagan dinner in Santa Barbara, California on Friday night, Palin claimed America is on a dangerous "road to ruin" because it has lost sight of Reagan's values.

"I probably consider myself a western conservative in the spirit of Ronald Reagan in that tradition because I know that he understood the small town pioneering spirit and values of hard work and rugged individualism. And love thy neighbor. Those are the values that we grew up with. Those are the values Ronald Reagan embodied. They are the values of his ranch," Palin said. At another event in Chicago Saturday night, several other 2012 hopefuls remembered Reagan. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania were all at the Reagan dinner.

Gingrich's speech highlighted Reagan's foreign policy prowess, saying the U.S. should look to Reagan's presidency for guidance in dealing with the crisis in Egypt. In a Fox News interview after the event he strategized about what Reagan would have done saying, "Reagan would have understood that Egypt had to be dealt within the context of a general Mid East strategy. This administration is unwilling to tell the truth about the threat to the United States."

Former Senator Rick Santorum also praised Reagan's bluntness, insisting "Reagan never apologized for America... If Reagan were alive he would identify the evil that we're fighting- jihadists. We cannot defeat an enemy unless we tell the world and the American people who the enemy is".

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton recalled his service in the Reagan administration. He highlighted the former president's foreign policy savvy, saying "Reagan proved that a president can walk and chew gum at the same time".

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty didn't attend the dinner in Chicago, but did make a stop in Reagan's birth state of Illinois on Friday. In a personal message on his PAC's website, he gives Reagan credit for inspiring him to get involved in politics in college. Pawlenty's visit was part of his ongoing book tour.

It's nothing new-- conservatives constantly invoking the Reagan name. Mitt Romney, recently wrote an op-ed in USA Today that praised Reaganomics. "Reagan saw a federal government that had become, like a diseased heart, enlarged and sclerotic. Paving a path trod today by the Tea Party, he sharply cut taxes to restore economic growth," Romney wrote.

And it seems the current president has had the Gipper on his mind too. President Obama also wrote an op-ed in USA Today praising Reagan's optimism and leadership. "No matter what political disagreements you may have had with President Reagan- and I certainly had my share - there is no denying his leadership in the world or his gift for communicating his vision for America," he wrote.

And as you may remember, the president's Christmas vacation reading list included an interesting read, Lou Cannon's biography, "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime."

Ruth Ravve and Erin Vogel contributed to this article