Some would say that the conservative base’s loudest voices — right-wing blogs, those nostalgic about the Contract with America, talk show hosts and pols deemed not fit for national office (Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain) — made a fundamental error. They put their money on an unstable and untrustworthy figure whose infatuation with big government is the mirror image (perhaps even a more extreme version) of President Obama’s. Tim Carney writes:

Gingrich’s penchant for grand plans is the Fatal Conceit against which F.A. Hayek warned. It is a lesser version of the hubris behind the New Deal and Soviet five-year plans. Just because Gingrich wants to include private industry in his moonshots doesn’t mean he’s not a central planner. After all, Obama’s grand plans — green energy, saving the auto industry, Obamacare, the stimulus — all involved industry rowing the boat while government steers.

Gingrich seems not to see any limits to his own intelligence, and so Americans should worry about what he would do with government power. Indeed, in foreign policy, Gingrich’s erratic ambition and boundless self-regard goes from something silly to something scary. . .

Obama’s big dreams and central planning are standard liberalism. Gingrich’s ambitions, though, are lunacy.

The right’s No. 1 target, indeed the justification for rejecting Mitt Romney, is the individual mandate, which we now know Newt Gingrich enthusiastically touted as late as 2009:

So let’s get over the notion that support for Gingrich is all about principled opposition to Obamacare.

Then let’s look at the broader goal of Tea Partyers — the return to limited government. But for Gingrich there is no idea too grand and no matter too small to escape his purview. One day it is a space colony, while the next day it is flyspecking fertility clinics’ ethical standards. Gingrich should probably stay away from anything with “ethics” in the title; he’s getting pummeled by Romney on his record and penchant for telling untruths.

What about consistency? Well, one moment Gingrich is getting grilled for his excuse about his claim that he didn’t label Spanish as a language of the ghetto. The next, his inconsistencies on in vitro fertilization and stem cell research are being dissected. There seems to be no subject on which his present rhetoric matches his past rhetoric, let alone his actual rhetoric.

Like a fish caught on a line, Gingrich now flails and flops, worsening his own predicament. His defenders, meanwhile, look increasingly pathetic in their efforts to overlook his ideological and character lapses. (Matt Labash cracks: “But South Carolinians have sent a message: Those days are over. How does anyone expect us to be cross with Newt Gingrich for dumping his multiple sclerosis-stricken wife over the phone, in order to take up with someone so genuine and warm as Callista Gingrich? Especially when, according to Newt’s own ex, he was generous enough to offer to share himself with both women? And people say Republicans are selfish!”)

The hard right had every chance to select a more principled and ethical conservative. But Rick Santorum simply wouldn’t do, you see. The hard right, or at least the screechiest faction of it, doesn’t really want a viable, consistent conservative. Lacking the ideal conservative (who doesn’t exist anyway) they’d rather have a standardbearer as angry and vitriolic as they are, who will surely crash and burn, leaving them to grouse about the GOP “establishment” and the “socialist” president.

You see, if you really care about a Reaganesque, coherent foreign policy or you actually want a more limited federal government or you sincerely believe character matters, Gingrich would not fit your bill. He’s something entirely different: the calling card of self-destructive right-wingers and the if-I-can’t-have-it-my-way-I’m-taking-my-ball-and-going-home set.

Thankfully what Gingrich has done, however, is to provide us clarity. If you want to win and achieve conservative reforms you are on one side of the line. If you simply want to vent or create chaos you’re on the other. Fortunately, 2 million Floridians tomorrow will show us the vast majority of Republicans actually want to win and achieve conservative goals, however incrementally.