President Ronald Reagan, a Republican icon, might not be welcome in today's GOP, Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) suggested Tuesday.

Inglis, a Palmetto State Republican who was defeated earlier this year in a conservative primary challenge, said that "optimistic" conservatives might have been threatened by the conservative Tea Party movement.

"Well, not so much moderates. Surely, maybe they're unwelcome, but also conservatives of the optimistic sort," Inglis said during an appearance on CNN in response to a question about whether centrists were being forced out of the GOP.

"I think this would be a tough time for Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp," Inglis added. "They were optimists that believe in America. Right now, unfortunately, conservatism is being presented with a voice of snarling rather than a face of smiling, and it really doesn't fit America."

Elected GOP leaders have wrestled with how the party should adjust to the influx of conservative activists, who have made their presence known in a series of Republican primary races this year. Democrats have sought to link the Tea Party movement to the GOP, casting them as one and the same, while Republicans wrestle with what their relationship to the grassroots movement should look like.

"Tea Parties ... they're like the tip of the spear, in terms of the frustration that's out there across this country," House Minority Whip Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) said of the movement Tuesday morning on CNBC. "The opportunity to work with folks in the Tea Party, I think, is real."

Inglis said, though, that the movement was only fostering fear and division in U.S. politics.

"I think what we've got is a lot of fear, some very fearful people. And some leaders who are scared of the fearful people," he said. "And the result is that a great deal of fear is out there rather than leadership that says, 'Sure, we've got challenges.'

"I don't think we build our party by distraction, and we don't serve our country by division," Inglis added. "The key here is to pull together as Americans and to build on truth, especially to build a conservative movement, a credible conservative movement, build it on truth."