When I predicted a scant nine days ago that Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid would be “the most entertaining crash-and-burn of the ’12 campaign,” I had no idea that he would so speedily set himself on fire. It’s not sufficient to say that the guy is already toast. Given the pratfalls of the past 72 hours, he more closely resembles a shard of scorched crust.Newt has enough money to go through the motions for the many months remaining in 2011, but he’ll do so like the unwitting dead man played by Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. There’s no way that someone with so few friends in the conservative movement can possibly win the Republican nomination.Newt basically signed his death warrant on Meet The Press, where he attacked the House Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it. He was actually correct to skewer the plan as “right-wing social engineering” and “radical,” but it’s very bad politics to deliver such a combustible rhetorical gift to the other party. The Democrats have duly pounced; eying the ’12 campaign, they have already sent out emails declaring that “even Newt Gingrich” opposes the conservative dream to decimate Medicare.Clearly, Newt is too liberal (and too rhetorically undisciplined) for the contemporary Republican base, and for the party leaders and commentators who echo the sentiments of the base. He was on a very short leash long before he announced his candidacy; a few errant barks later, they’re already yanking his chain. As Congressman Paul Ryan, the GOP’s top anti-Medicare guru, lamented on the radio about Newt, “With allies like that, who needs the left?”The Wall Street Journal editorial page (ground zero of the conservative commentariat) yesterday denounced Newt’s “weakness as a candidate,” his “divisive rhetoric,” his “policy timidity.” House Republican leader Eric Cantor assailed his “tremendous misspeak,” and suggested that perhaps, as a candidate, “he’s finished.” Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer told Fox News, “He’s done.” Ex-Newt aide Rich Galen said that his old boss’ campaign is “close to being functionally over.” Conservative talk show host Bill Bennett berated Newt yesterday, telling his guest, “Ryan’s in the fight of his life, and you’re shooting at him from behind.” Rush Limbaugh’s head exploded. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – a crucial player in that state’s early Republican primary – essentially told CNN that Newt was dead to her: “When you have a conservative (Paul Ryan) fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting him off at the knees.”It’s also worth noting Newt’s other current woes – his Sunday statement that “all of us have a responsibility to pay for health care” (an insurance purchase requirement, which conservatives oppose); and his profligate spending habits (according to a new Politico story, he and the missus recently racked up a credit-card debt as high as $500,000 at Tiffany’s) – but why get distracted? Newt’s attempts to douse the Medicare flames are sufficient entertainment.Predictably, as part of his damage-control campaign, he has blamed Meet The Press for supposedly being sooooo mean to him. In a conference call with conservative bloggers yesterday, he said: “I didn’t go in there quite hostile enough…This wasn’t me randomly saying things. These were very deliberate efforts (by host David Gregory) to pick fights.”But Sunday marked Newt’s 35th visit to Meet The Press; he knew from experience that he would be challenged rather than fawned over, a la Sean Hannity. And the irony is that Gregory served up the Medicare issue as a softball. Newt didn’t have to assail the House Republican plan, much less craft an incendiary phrase. He served it up on his own.Gregory: “Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition (to ending traditional Medicare), and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support and – so that they can go out and buy private insurance?”Newt: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.” He then explained some of his own ideas, none of which were as sweeping as the Ryan privatization plan.Gregory, following up: “But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.”Newt: “I think that that is too big a jump…I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”Angry conservatives aren’t fooled by his attempt to blame the “gotcha” media. Nor do they seem mollified by a remark he made yesterday on CNN, when he suggested that his views are really a work in progress: “Normally, campaigns are very secretive, they don’t reveal anything until they’re totally ready and then they spring something. I really think you’re better off when you engage the American people in a dialogue where they get to participate in the development of the ideas.” (Translation: He’s not “totally ready” yet to commit to positions on Medicare or any other issue; his actual positions are merely in “development.”)He also called Paul Ryan yesterday and apologized for what he called his “mistake.” Newt’s spokesman said that the call “went very well.” (Wait…was it a “mistake” to oppose the kill-Medicare plan? Or just a “mistake” to characterize it so harshly?) Yet earlier he had told the conservative bloggers that it was politically nuts for the House Republicans to vote Yes on killing such a popular program; as he told the bloggers (and he is right about this), “Medicare is not like anything else. Medicare is something that people really take personally. You’re dealing with nitroglycerin.”In a presidential campaign, every minute that a candidate has to spend explaining or defending himself is a precious minute lost. Newt has already lost his first week on the trail – and that’s not even counting the Fox News video that will dog him until the day he drops out. As Iowa voter, a Paul Ryan fan, told Newt while shaking his hand in a hotel corridor: “You’re an embarrassment to our party…Why don’t you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?”Too late! Having apologized to Paul Ryan and sorta kinda fallen into line with the kill-Medicare crowd, as befits the current conservative orthodoxy, he has now issued a fresh warning to the Democrats. This is what he said last night on Fox News, I kid you not:”Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.”In other words, it would be a lie to quote him accurately. Has there ever been a more entertainingly talkative dead man?