Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty realizes the economy is the most pressing issue on the minds of voters, so today the Minnesotan presented his economic vision at the University of Chicago. Pawlenty is calling it his “Better Deal.”

If the goal was to position Pawlenty as a serious, credible candidate who knows something about economic policy, the speech was an ignominious failure.

Pawlenty’s pitch was so weak, it’s startling his campaign staff and speechwriters even let him deliver it. As the former governor (and former moderate) sees it, he can usher in an era of 5% growth through “a breathtaking series of tax cuts,” including a massive reduction in the corporate tax rate and the total elimination of taxes on capital gains, dividends, and estates.

How would Pawlenty pay for all of this? By capping federal spending at 18% of GDP — a target that makes the right-wing House Republican budget plan look fairly moderate by comparison.

Don’t worry, Pawlenty says. His enormous tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations will be so great, they’ll produce enormous wealth that will make all of our problems go away. To help prove his point, Pawlenty points to the economic successes of the 1980s and 1990s — apparently unaware of the fact that he was citing years that followed tax increases.

Borrowing a 15-year-old gimmick, when it was called the “yellow pages test,” Pawlenty also talked up what he calls “The Google Test.” It’s the test that says, “If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it.” As Tanya Somanader explained, “A quick test-run of Pawlenty’ big idea reveals a small hiccup. Under the Google Test, the government would no longer need to pay for U.S. soldiers, military weapons, the FBI, law enforcement, firefighters, food safety, road construction, arbitration, Social Security, and Medicare.”

After scrutinizing some of Pawlenty’s more outlandish projections, Ezra Klein concluded:

This plan isn’t optimistic. It isn’t a bit vague. It’s a joke. And I don’t know which is worse: The thought that Pawlenty knows that and went forward with this pandering, fantasy-based proposal anyway, or the thought that he doesn’t know it, and he really thinks this could work.

Remember, unlike some of the carnival clowns in the Republican field, we’re supposed to see Tim Pawlenty as one of the GOP’s “grown-ups.” He’s not some media personality in the midst of a vanity exercise, we’re told, he’s one of the real candidates who might actually win the nomination.

All Pawlenty did today was reinforce the worst fears about the intellectual bankruptcy of the modern Republican Party.

Steve Benen

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.