Newt Gingrich’s worst qualities have been on full display when he has felt the most pressure (not a good sign, by the way, for a man auditioning for head of the Free World). He crumbled in the debate last Thursday. He has lashed out at opponents, trying to muscle Rick Santorum out of the race and accusing Mitt Romney of “looting” companies and profiting at workers’ expense, doing “no work” for his capital gains and, most recently and most despicably, being “hostile to religious liberty.” Politico reports:

You want a war on the Catholic Church by Obama? Guess what: Romney refused to allow Catholic hospitals to have conscience in their dealing with certain circumstances,” Gingrich said, apparently referring to the handling of emergency contraception in universal health care laws.

He went on, speaking to a CNN reporter as a pack of press surrounded him: “Romney cut off kosher food to elderly Jews on Medicare. Both of them have the same lack of concern for religious liberty.”

Gingrich escalated the attack in his remarks in an airplane hangar, saying Americans deserve a “government that respects our religions.”

“I’m a little bit tired of being lectured about respecting every . . . religion on the planet, I would like him to respect our religion,” he said. A campaign spokesman confirmed Gingrich was referring to Romney.

Let’s count the ways in which this is false and offensive. As we know well by now, the funding for kosher meals through Medicare was restored in Massachusetts. In any event does the failure to pay for the extra cost of kosher meals really compare to the noxious step by the administration in fining churches that refuse to provide contraception and sterilization services in contravention of Catholic dogma? The Obama move, as my colleague Michael Gerson, explains is an egregious violation of the free expression of religion:

Both radicalism and maliciousness are at work in Obama’s decision — an edict delivered with a sneer. It is the most transparently anti-Catholic maneuver by the federal government since the Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875 — a measure designed to diminish public tolerance of Romanism, then regarded as foreign, authoritarian and illiberal. Modern liberalism has progressed to the point of adopting the attitudes and methods of 19th-century Republican nativists.

Gingrich has the chutzpah to compare that to the temporary defunding of a state subsidy for kosher meals in the midst of a budget crunch. Moreover, in making the assertion against the only Mormon candidate to run for the presidency — a candidate who has been the subject of bigoted comments and who has eloquently defended religious pluralism — is especially obnoxious.

You see, Gingrich will say anything, make any argument and associate his opponents with venality when it serves his own ends. He’s done this before, of course.

This was the man who blamed liberals for the Columbine massacre:

“I want to say to the elite of this country — the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite — I accuse you in Littleton, and I accuse you in Kosovo, of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have done, and instead foisting upon the rest of us pathetic banalities because you don’t have the courage to look at the world you have created.”

In 2010 it was time to call Democrats Nazis. Politico reported on Gingrich’s onslaught in his book “To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine”:

[I]n his book, Gingrich went even farther than calling Democratic leaders socialist — a phrase used so often during the health care debate that it has almost lost its shock value — writing that they represent a threat just as dangerous as Nazi Germany.

The assertion struck Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace as “wildly over the top,” which he told Gingrich when he asked the Georgia Republican to defend the statement on Sunday.

“You also write this, and let’s put it up on the screen. ‘The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did,’” Wallace said. “Mr. Speaker, respectfully, isn’t that wildly over the top?”

“No, not if by America you mean the historic contract we’ve had which says your rights come from your creator, they’re unalienable, you’re allowed to pursue happiness,” Gingrich responded. “I mean, just listen to President Obama’s language.”

Gingrich — who now whimpers over ads recounting his ethics problems, intemperate language and influence-peddling for Freddie Mac — resorts to character assassination when it suits his fancy. His arguments bear no resemblance to reality and do not reflect a conservative mindset or agenda. They have a sole purpose: To destroy opponents and promote himself.

Now a word about his right-leaning defenders. It does their own credibility and the conservative movement no good to assert that Gingrich’s ethics problem was all a partisan witch-hunt (Gingrich, as Republicans colleagues said at the time, gave his enemies the rope to hang him) or to ignore the bipartisan findings of the ethics committee and the House or to assert falsely that he was “exonerated.” (The IRS never cleared him of lying to the ethics committee, the basis for the ethics sanction.)

Likewise, it does his conservative protectors and the GOP no favors to excuse his anti-Bain attacks as merely an attack on one “sort” of capitalism (I guess that would be the capitalism with capital). And it certainly embarrasses the Gingrich shills to accuse men and women of conscience who come forward to correct the historical record (which Gingrich routinely shreds) of being flunkies of one or another candidate.

It is time for conservatives of good character to stand up to the candidate who has none. Pick a candidate or not. Root for Romney or Santorum. Even indulge in the fantasy that another candidate can come into the race to sweep Republicans off their feet. But please, it’s time to stop encouraging Gingrich. Nothing he has done in the past for the GOP justifies his current conduct.