Of all the attacks and counterattacks made during the Republican presidential primary, the hardest one to prove is which candidate's love of Ronald Reagan is most pure and true? Each candidate has professed his undying love for the fortieth president, It's impossible to score who's been the most adoring of Reagan during this primary election, because even if you count the number of Reagan mentions, it's hard to quantify the intensity of the pro-Reagan sentiment. Therefore, we are tallying the number of thumbs up each candidate received from Reagan himself, Reagan's family, or Reagan aides, as well as the very rare moments when the candidates bashed Reagan on the record. 

Newt Gingrich

Moments of Reagan Doubt: In 1986, Gingrich said, "Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail… President Reagan is clearly failing." Not only attacking Reagan (-1), he was also attacking Reagan on his signature achievement (-1) in a way that looks pretty wrong in hindsight (-1). Ditto for his 1985 claim that Reagan's meeting with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was "the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich" (-2). On the other hand, he was attacking Reagan from the right (+1).

Thumbs up from real Reagans: President Reagan did mention Gingrich once in his diary (+3), however, it was to disagree with Gingrich (-1), but it was over a policy the Tea Party would now support (+1). As The Weekly Standard highlights, Reagan wrote, "Newt Gingrich has a proposal for freezing the budget at the 1983 level. It's a tempting idea except that it would cripple our defense programs. And if we make an exception on that every special interest group will be asking for the same."

Michael Reagan endorsed Gingrich Monday in Florida (+2). The younger Reagan said of Gingrich, "I owe it to him because of what he’s done for the Republican Party over the years."

In 1995, Nancy Reagan said, "Just take a look at the extraordinary men and women who make up the 104th Congress, and, of course, this distinguished Speaker Newt Gingrich... The dramatic movement of 1995 is an outgrowth of a much earlier crusade that goes back half a century. Barry Goldwater handed the torch to Ronnie. And in turn, Ronnie turned that torch over to Newt and the Republican members of Congress to keep that dream alive," as Commentary's Alana Goodman notes. An immediate Reagan family endorsement is worth less than a nod from the man himself, but it's more valuable than the backing of a Reagan aide (+2).

Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere reports that Lou Cordia, who worked in the EPA under Reagan and is now executive director of the Reagan Alumni Association, says that among the groups 4,500 members, Gingrich gets the most support (+1).

Thumbs down from real Reagans: Some Reaganites who are bashing Gingrich are not Romney supporters. Former assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams, for example, wrote that Gingrich was not a true Reagan fan in The National Review (-1). Pat Buchanan, who was a communications aide for Reagan, said this weekend that the Reagan White House saw Gingrich as a political opportunist (-1), The Daily Caller notes. In 1978, Buchanan claims, Gingrich attacked Reagan (-1) on Reagan's opposition to anti-Apartheid sanctions, which in hindsight looks like the correct position (+1).

Mitt Romney

Moments of Reagan Doubt: During his Senate campaign in 1994, Romney said on tape (-1), "I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush" -- attacking the icon from the left (-1) at the moment he'd become slightly uncool (-3).

Romney's father, George Romney was sharply at odds with Reagan on foreign policy in 1967 (-2) but history proves Romney was right (+1). Reagan claimed things were actually going better in Vietnam than President Johnson claimed: "I have a feeling we're doing much better in the war than we're being told, that the corner has been turned," he said. Wrong! However it's unclear how far being right about Vietnam gets you in the Republican primary (-1). 

Thumbs up from real Reagans: Gingrich, as Romney's campaign likes to point out, only got one mention in Reagan's diary. But George Romney (pictured at right), the candidate's dad, gets two whole mentions (+3 per mention, for a total of +6). However, they're boring entries about some volunteer programs, and just like in the case of Gingrich, Reagan expresses his disagreement with the elder Romney. Reagan wrote June 22, 1984, "George Romney came by, he is heading up a part of our Pvt. Sector Initiative called 'Volunteer.' He's interested in possibly a special medal for outstanding volunteers. I'm rather inclined to think they should be formally included in the presentation of the Medals of Freedom." Not only boring, but potentially anti-capitalist (labor should be sold!) (-2). 

The Romney campaign has held several conference calls in which Reagan aides bash Gingrich, Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere points out. Rich Williamson, who held United Nations posts under Reagan (+1),  former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman (+1), Ambassador Gerald Carmen (+1), former undersecretary of defense Dov Zakheim (+1).

Final tally 

Romney gets +11 and -10, for a total of +1. Gingrich gets +11 and -9, for a total of +2. Gingrich wins!