Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is clearly struggling at this point in the process, trailing in the polls, having trouble raising money, and fighting the perception that he’s not quite ready for prime time.

The larger problem, though, is that the former Minnesota governor is responding to this in inherently unhealthy ways. The more Pawlenty struggles, the more ridiculous he becomes, convinced that reckless extremism is what the Republican base really wants. It leads to nonsense like this.

As debt ceiling negotiations race towards their thrilling conclusion, Tim Pawlenty is calling on Republicans to avoid tax increases at all costs, even it means default.

At a Bloomberg lunch with reporters, Pawlenty compared the debt standoff to his time as governor of Minnesota, in which he shut down the government when negotiations with the Democratic legislature broke down. Asked whether he would be willing to “blow it up” in the debt negotiations with Congress and risk a default, he said “I did blow it up, in Minnesota.”

TPM asked Pawlenty whether Republicans should raise the debt ceiling if their only two options are default or a deal that includes higher taxes. He replied that the party cannot and will not offer any concessions on revenue and that America may need a “dramatic moment” to effect the “quantum change” the country needs.

Pawlenty added that the consequences of default may not be that bad, and that if the Obama administration is forced to choose which bills to pay, the president should prioritize foreign creditors over the U.S. military.

Slate Jacob Weisberg, who was on hand for the lunch, described Pawlenty’s views as ” jaw-dropping, reckless, [and] utterly appalling.”

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was quick to condemn Pawlenty’s garbage: “Governor Pawlenty is hardly the only Republican who would prefer that the United States default on its debt, but as a presidential candidate, his words cannot be dismissed lightly. To allow the United States to default on its debt for the first time in our history would be to allow our economy to descend into another crisis — one potentially even worse than the crisis that befell America under the last Republican Administration. America cannot afford the kind of reckless leadership that Governor Pawlenty would bring to the table.”

But Pawlenty doesn’t much care. He assumes the Republican base has gone mad, so Pawlenty’s top priority is to pander shamelessly to them, hoping to convince them he’s as crazy as they are.

Of course, if it works, and Pawlenty wins the GOP nomination, he’ll have to quickly convince the nation he only pretended to be crazy as part of a crude, cynical charade. Good luck with that, Tim.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.