Newt Gingrich says something outrageous. The media and/or conservatives react. He then claims he was misunderstood. This was the pattern in his condemnation of “social engineering” purportedly implicit in the Medicare reform plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It happened again with Gingrich’s pontification on child labor laws.

The Post reports: “GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich called child labor laws ‘truly stupid’ at a Friday appearance at Harvard University, saying that he would propose extraordinarily radical changes that would fundamentally transform the culture of poverty. Speaking at the John F. Kennedy school, Gingrich said that children in the poorest neighborhoods are ‘trapped in child laws’ that prevent them from earning money.” Someone must have told him that sounded downright batty.

So by Monday he was telling The Post: “He is not advocating revamping child labor laws, he simply wants to empower young people with a work ethic they need to succeed. ‘I’m not suggesting that they drop out of school and become janitors, I’m talking about working 20 hours a week and being empowered to succeed.’”

Huh? Most states already allow kids 14 years and older to work a limited number of hours. Was he saying that states are stupid not to allow 8-year-olds to work? Or was he saying they should be allowed to work more than 20 hours? Most likely, his excuse is just disingenuous cover for himself, in the same way he claimed his attack on Rep. Paul Ryan was all a misunderstanding.

This routine reveals two of Gingrich’s central flaws: an impulsiveness that convinces him every loopy idea that comes into his head is pure gold and a complete lack of honesty in coming clean (as in the Freddie Mac episode, when he insists he wasn’t “lobbying”).

Imagine now an entire general election campaign of this sort of thing. President Obama would not need to leave the White House. His entire ad campaign would simply be clips of Gingrich saying very dumb things and then trying to say he didn’t mean it. Are Republicans really going to give him that luxury?

We keep hearing there is a new and more mature Gingrich. Alas, not new enough or mature enough to get through an election without repeatedly blowing himself up. Those insisting he is the latest, best hope for the GOP should think this through a bit more, keeping in mind that that the actual Gingrich as opposed to the idealized version of Gingrich in their heads is a walking time bomb.