THE CANDIDATE IN DESPERATE NEED OF A CALCULATOR AND AN ECONOMICS TEXTBOOK…. Late last year, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) gave us his first big hint that his grasp of economics is awfully weak. In December, commenting on unemployment, Pawlenty declared that the private sector is losing jobs while public-sector jobs are “booming” — which is the exact opposite of reality.

But as his presidential campaign continues, Pawlenty’s grasp on the basics appears to be getting worse.

Tim Pawlenty endeared himself to enthused Republican activists [in New Hampshire] Thursday with an impassioned attack against President Barack Obama’s rhetoric on the looming debt-ceiling fight, accusing him of misleading on the issue.

“President Obama has set up a false choice,” Pawlenty said at an evening meeting of the Nashua Area Republican City Committee. “He has said either raise the debt ceiling or the United States of America will default on its bills to outside creditors, which could set off a series of negative events.”

Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and presidential hopeful, was forceful in opposing any increase in the country’s debt limit.

As Pawlenty sees it, once the government reaches the debt ceiling, the Obama administration should start moving money around, picking and choosing which bills should be paid first with the existing cash flow. Told this might cause anxiety in the credit market, and disrupt the economy, the former governor said he wasn’t sure that’s true.

Dave Weigel called Pawlenty’s approach “fairly stupid,” and it is. The larger point, though, is that pretty much everything Pawlenty says about economic, fiscal, and monetary policy is also fairly stupid.

His claims about his own budget record are at odds with reality. Pawlenty’s condemnation of the stimulus doesn’t match his reliance on the stimulus to boost Minnesota’s economy. When Pawlenty recently commented on fiat money, his remarks were accurately described as “idiocy.”

Let’s also not forget that in December 2008, at the height of a global economic crisis and the United States facing a brutal depression, Pawlenty stepped up to offer a solution: a five-year spending freeze and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Now, I don’t know Pawlenty well, and it’s possible he’s smarter than he’s letting on. Maybe he’s running around making blisteringly stupid claims in order to impress the right-wing GOP base. That’s what Republican presidential candidates generally do.

But if Pawlenty actually means what he’s saying, his approach to economic, fiscal, and monetary policy isn’t just wrong; it’s dangerous. If he’s selling nonsense to win a primary, Pawlenty is a cynical hack. If he’s sincere, Pawlenty has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.