Ask the question! (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

You’d think Ronald Reagan, who is invoked incessantly, was the last Republican president, and you’d think he was not only a flawless chief executive but a sinless adherent to current Republican dogma. We’ll come back to that.

But after Reagan there were of course two additional Republicans over an aggregate 12 years — more than half of the last 23. The candidates almost never hark back to that.

The only trouble with Bruni’s argument is its exclusion of a cudgel against the media. For if the candidates don’t want to talk about the 43rd president of the United States, well, there’s a way to make them. Put the question to them, that is.

The most obvious venue would be the debates. There’s already talk that there’ve been way too many of these events, so many that some want to reform the schedule for the next presidential election cycle. Yet not quite enough that the candidates have had to provide a thorough accounting of just how their administrations would differ from the most recent Republican administration.

Has a debate moderator ever asked the following question or something similar?

Nearly all of you favor an aggressive foreign policy toward the Middle East with an emphasis on the threat of, or actual use of, military force. And you generally favor holding the line against tax hikes. Those are two hallmarks of our last Republican president, George W. Bush. How would your administration differ from his?

If that question has been asked, I must have been too busy Googling “HPV vaccine dangerous” to hear it (a poll of dedicated debate watchers suggests that nothing so frontal about W. has been posed to the candidates). Whether or not the inquiry has flown in such a formal setting, it should be a staple of every candidate interview on cable, every chit-chat with the editorial board of such-and-such daily. Voters already have a frame of reference for a Republican president. Use it, media.