Apart from his sainted status in the Republican pantheon, Ronald Reagan has become something else: a go-to for candidates accused of switching parties out of political expedience.
Donald Trump, a Democratic-leaning-political-hybrid-turned GOP-presidential-hopeful, is just the latest to invoke the former president when challenged about his relatively recent campaign conversion.
As their rivalry intensifies, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has begun questioning Trump's Republican cred and that comparison to Reagan.
"I'm pretty sure Ronald Reagan didn't write checks and support Democratic politicians like [New York Gov.] Andrew Cuomo and [ex-New York Rep.] Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton," Cruz said Monday at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
Reagan, a New Deal Democrat in the day, did, indeed, switch political parties. But his changeover was gradual and took place over the course of an extended evolution. Even as he maintained his Democratic registration, he backed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president in 1952 and 1956, and Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 election.
"Under the tousled, boyish haircut is still old Karl Marx," Reagan said in reference to Nixon's opponent, John F. Kennedy, in a letter offering counsel to the GOP nominee.
Reagan formally changed his party registration in 1962. "I didn't leave the Democratic Party," he said in a line he often repeated. "The party left me."
Unlike Trump, Reagan was an ardent campaigner for conservative candidates and causes before ever running for office. He spent years honing a speech—which became The Speech, in political lore—that enunciated his support for Barry Goldwater and the conservative principles underlying his failed 1964 bid.
The nationally broadcast address helped launch Reagan's political career, starting with his 1966 election as California governor.
Trump, by contrast, is a comparatively new convert to the Republican Party. As recently as 2011, according to the Washington Post, he contributed more money to Democrats than Republicans. The newspaper and television archives are filled with Trump quotes praising Democrats like Hillary Clinton (and expressing such heretical views as support for legalized abortion, government-run healthcare and higher taxes on the wealthy.)
Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also hammered Trump for his past positions. After Trump signed a loyalty oath last fall pledging to support the ultimate GOP nominee, Bush responded on Twitter with his own handwritten note: