laiming the mantle of Reagan has become de rigueur for all Republicans no matter what wing of the party they come from.

No fewer than 19 prospective candidates showed up for a GOP presidential cattle call in New Hampshire last weekend.

Such an incredible amount of candidates bears witness to the fact that the GOP finally sees an opportunity par excellence to win the White House back next year.

Democrats have dominated since Bill Clinton in 1992 with the exception of George W. Bush and his disputed election over Al Gore in 2000.

It is also very difficult for a party to win a third term in the White House, not done since George Bush Senior carried on from Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan was a far more popular president leaving office than Barack Obama is likely to be, which will make the task of Hillary Clinton or whoever wins the Democratic nomination all that more difficult.

But claiming the mantle of Reagan has become de rigueur for all Republicans no matter what wing of the party they come from.

Fact is that Reagan, who increased some taxes, worked across the aisle with fellow Irish American “Tip” O’Neill and made peace with the Soviet Union, would have a very difficult time getting elected in the GOP today.

The party has swung violently to the right, and the notion of raising taxes or working with old adversaries on foreign policy (see Iran and Cuba) would be anathema to the core conservatives.

When I visited the Reagan Presidential Library a year ago in California I got some sense of the genius of the man and the attributes that are lacking in his would-be successors today.

His speech making was magnificent. He was probably the finest orator since Roosevelt. What he said he said plainly and clearly, most notably his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech at the Berlin Wall.

But there was also humor and a feel good factor that he embodied, so different from the scolds today always predicting Armageddon.

His optimism reflected well on the country and won him respect and admiration even from political foes.

His relationship with O’Neill, a very powerful speaker of the House, said it all.

They were once compared to two Irish fishwives, haggling over every deal, complaining, nagging, but somehow moving forward and reaching agreement.

It is always tempting to view the past through rose tinted glasses, but the Reagan era really did seem like a time when massive foreign accomplishments like the end of the Cold War were accomplished in an utterly different atmosphere than today.

The 19 would-be Reagans on the Republican side know the shadow of Reagan will loom over whichever of them assumes his mantle of GOP contender in the way another Irish American, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, looms over every Democratic aspirant.

Perhaps there is a uniter as opposed to a divider in the field, but it hardly seemed so with the harsh rhetoric last weekend. American politics has moved on since Reagan, but not for the better.