More than a year ago, I talked to several of the Republican presidential candidates about an idea given to me by Chuck and Gena Norris.

With the crowded pack expected to be vying for the nomination back then, the Norrises wondered if it would be possible to persuade those running not to attack each other, but to focus their criticism on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. (Back then, no one ever dreamed Bernie Sanders would be a serious candidate for the nomination.)

It was a simple idea – not really a new idea. But it made sense, given the state of the nation and the need for unity in opposition to the policies that have been so destructive to the nation.

I began to talk to those Republican candidates I knew about this concept.

Do you know what I found?

Every single one of them immediately embraced the idea. Some even pledged not to attack other candidates vying for the Republican nomination.

I guess it was naïve of me to think that could actually happen in 2016.

Because what I see today has deteriorated into a cannibalistic orgy of attacks.

It’s disgusting. It’s counter-productive. It creates bitter feelings that will be tough to heal. It’s not a recipe for the kind of unity Republicans absolutely need to have going into a general election in which they are always outnumbered.

Is it too late to stop this frenzy of fratricide?

I don’t know. Perhaps it was inevitable. Maybe it’s just the nature of politics. Many of the candidates have made the point that everyone on the Republican presidential stage represents a far superior alternative to a President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders.

That is obvious.

So why are they running against each other rather than against the Democrats – the common political enemy? (And I don’t use that word “enemy” lightly.)

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They also all concede that this election will truly decide what kind of a nation America will be – a constitutional republic with limited government or one that is run by the “experts” in Washington with virtually no limits on their power.

Frankly, I’m shocked at the low level of discourse in this campaign by the Republican candidates. They are sniping far too often at each other. They are spending far too little time painting a picture of a better America.

In 1980, a widely distrusted, nationally unpopular conservative Republican former actor from California ran for president.

He told us about the 11th Commandment – “thou shall not speak ill of fellow Republicans.”

He told us about how America could be a “shining city on a hill.”

He was positive and optimistic about the future – even while warning about the dangers ahead.

When the campaign began, he had 30 percent approval ratings against an unpopular incumbent president.

He won in a landslide.

Is there something for the current crop of Republican presidential candidates to learn from this experience?

How could they not see that there is?

It’s a powerful lesson. Ronald Reagan went on to win an even bigger re-election landslide in 1984. He made it virtually inevitable that he would be succeeded by another Republican president in 1988.

He delivered peace and prosperity for the nation.

And he turned many Democrats into Republican voters.

Yes, there’s a big lesson here for the 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

Here’s what I would do if I were one of them: I would look around at the next debate and speak positively about every single one of the Republican rivals. They all have some strengths. I would explain that every single one of them would be welcome in my Cabinet. I would explain that they are all human, like me, and all sometimes fall short of the mark.

But the difference is that every single one of them would be far superior to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

That’s the truth that needs to be spoken – over and over and over, again.

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