Reagan's Sons Line up to Attack Donald Trump, as Battle for Republican Party Rages

Michael Reagan introduces a tribute to his father, Ronald Reagan, during the Republican Convention on September 1, 2004. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former President Ronald Reagan's son Michael Reagan has joined the ranks of Republicans and Democrats criticizing President Donald Trump's cancellation of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals amnesty program for young migrants.

In a tweet, the Republican strategist and author invoked his adoptive father, the conservative icon and 40th president, to lambast the incumbent.

Fyi,my father would not kick the dreamers out of the US.He would find a way to work with Congress and lead..@FoxNews @newsmax

— Michael Reagan (@ReaganWorld) September 5, 2017

Such is Ronald Reagan's status amongst conservatives that Republican pretenders to the presidency compete to pay obsequious homage to his legacy, and Trump has been no different.

On the campaign trail, Trump's Make America Great Again slogan echoed the Let's Make America Great Again slogan used by Reagan during his 1980 run for the White House. Days before his inauguration, Trump shared a photograph of himself meeting Reagan and his wife, Nancy, at a White House reception in 1987.

An old picture with Nancy and Ronald Reagan.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017

In an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity, Trump named "the Gipper" as the president he most admired who held office in his lifetime, and he told The Wall Street Journal in 2015 the feelings were mutual. "He felt very good about me," Trump said of Reagan. "Frankly, he liked my attitude."

But Reagan's children have been keen to draw a line between Trump and their father.

Reagan's son Ron Reagan, a Democrat and MSNBC political analyst, has called for Trump to be removed from office. And in June 2016, Michael Reagan said that Trump was the only GOP presidential candidate in his lifetime his father would not have backed.

This most likely would be the 1st time if my father was alive that he would not support the nominee of the GOP @Reince @newsmax

— Michael Reagan (@ReaganWorld) June 6, 2016

"No way do I or would my father support this garbage," he tweeted in October, after Trump claimed his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, had not been loyal to her husband.

According to anecdotes collected by The Washington Post, Ronald Reagan wasn't exactly falling over himself to spend time with then-real estate developer Trump during his time as president. The White House repeatedly rebuffed Trump's requests for the two to appear at business galas together, and Reagan mistakenly signed the photograph of them together (which Trump shared in January) with his surname twice.

And there is more to divide the pair than Reagan's folksy courtesy versus Trump's boastful brashness.

Reagan's legacy is one front in a dispute that has split the Republicans: between those who believe that America's future lies in its commitment to Reagan's free trade policies and to the country's role as a global guarantor of democracy and the economic nationalists opposed to the country's global role.

Trump himself has acknowledged key differences between his own beliefs and those of his Republican predecessor.

"Well, I like Reagan," said Trump in January after Hannity asked which president he most admired. "I didn't like him on trade, but other than trade, I liked him very much, and he was OK on trade. But not great."

Reagan is regarded as the inspiration behind the North American Free Trade Agreement, having signed off on free trade deals with Mexico and Canada during his presidency. Trump made the renegotiation of NAFTA one of his campaign pledges.

On immigration, Reagan in 1986 signed a bill granting amnesty to illegal immigrants who had entered the country before 1982.

But there are also similarities.

Reagan was not averse to using tariffs when necessary, imposing them on Japanese and electronics imports during the 1980s, acts praised by Trump. The incumbent has also praised Reagan's 1986 Tax Reform Act as he seeks to enact tax changes of his own.

During its first eight months in office, the Trump administration has been consumed by feuding between the pro-free-trade "globalists" and economic nationalists who centered around recently departed Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

And with divisive congressional votes on issues including taxes dominating the GOP agenda in coming months, it seems likely Reagan's legacy will continue to loom large.