Newt Gingrich is plagued not simply by the blistering rhetoric, the Washington insider-ness, the messy personal life and the ethics problems. He sounds, well, sort of daft these days. His latest brainstorm is for a moon colony by the end of his second term. The bonus here is that if we get 13,000 people (if you ask where that number comes from, it’s akin to asking how the Star Trek transporters work) it can be a new state! (New Gingrich? New Callista?)

I asked a senior Republican Senate adviser about the moon colony idea. ( It turns out to be frightfully expensive even to put 100 people up there.) He deadpanned: “I’m sure we can pay for it all by selling space rocks.”

I then turned to Mario Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a fiscal conservative think tank. He conceded he’s not a space guru. But he did e-mail me his thoughts on the economics of such a venture:

As a lifelong Sci-Fi fan, I enjoy tales of mankind trekking into the final frontier. But in more than 40 years, there have only been six manned flights to the moon, all between 1969 and 1972. A big reason we don’t often go to the moon, I suspect, is cost. Discovery estimates it would cost $15 billion just transport 100 lunar colonists and their supplies, and says total cost could be “trillions.” Where on Earth would the money come from? With the national debt already exceeding GDP, Congress is not going to appropriate the funds. Funding would have to come from the private sector. Does anyone have a business plan that would justify the billions or “trillions” in capital outlays? Maybe someday there will be. Let’s hope!

Alas, we’re in a time when the entire country, not to mention the Republican Party, is rightfully concerned about the looming fiscal crisis. Conservatives want to pare back the federal government to do fewer things. National security experts are warning that scarce resources are imperiling our national security. And Gingrich wants to go to the moon.

Everyone who thinks it’s worth it to borrow a trillion or so more from China to do this (while ignoring defense spending and other essential functions of the federal government) step forward. Hmm. I don’t see too many takers (outside the Alvin Toffler fan club).

A reader sent me a reminder that in 1981 Gingrich introduced H.R. 4286 to require a plan for funding a space colony. The bill included a section for “the government of space territories, including constitutional protections, the right to self- government and admission to statehood.”

The space colonists would have congressional representation and everything!

Really, the Earth is too small for the self-described “grandiose” candidate. At some point, however, unless you’re a supporter of the president’s reelection, this ceases to be funny. It is simply the latest indication of the three-ring circus (colony?) that would ensue if Gingrich were the nominee, or heaven forbid, the president.