PALIN TO RESIGN…. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) decided to shake up an otherwise slow news day with an astounding announcement: not only has she decided to skip a re-election campaign next year, she’s also resigning from office altogether later this month.

“Gov. Sarah Palin will resign her office in a few weeks, she said during a news conference at her Wasilla home Friday morning.

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell will be inaugurated at the Governor’s Picnic at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks on Saturday, July 25, Palin said.

There was no immediate word as to why she will resign, though speculation has been rampant that the former vice presidential candidate is gearing up for a run at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Palin is making a terrible mistake. The lure of the national spotlight is strong, and the day-to-day challenges associated with running the executive branch of a state are no doubt difficult. There are probably plenty of far-right activists and donors whispering in Palin’s ear, telling her to ignore the naysayers and realize she’s ready to lead the nation, but she’s listening to the wrong people. Walking away from the governor’s office after one term is incredibly foolish — but walking away from the governor’s office after two and a half years in office is stupefying.

Just yesterday, Charles Krauthammer, an unquestionably conservative observer, explained on Fox News, “[Palin] is not a serious candidate for the presidency. She had to go home and study and spend a lot of time on issues in which she was not adept last year, and she hasn’t.”

Indeed, she’s done the opposite. Reihan Salam, a prominent conservative blogger and Republican strategist, defended Palin repeatedly over the last several months, making excuses for her shortcomings, and arguing valiantly that Palin is a credible national figure. Then, in April, Salam reluctantly gave up.

Palin’s campaign antics can be forgiven. What can’t be forgiven is the ham-handed way she’s tried to build her national profile since she returned to Alaska. She’s abandoned the bold right-left populism that won over Alaska voters — and me — in the first place in favor of an increasingly defensive and harsh partisanship…. One can’t help but get the impression that Palin is a clownish, vindictive amateur…. What I’m wondering is: Has Sarah Palin undergone some kind of secret lobotomy?

Salam was arguably understating the case. Indeed, since that item was published, Palin’s on-the-job performance has become an even bigger train wreck, with a bizarre fight with the state legislature over economic stimulus, a failed effort to appoint a ridiculous state attorney general, a striking number of public and private feuds, and a series of media interviews in which she’s humiliated herself over and over and over and over again. And this doesn’t even factor in the allegations of ethics violations.

What’s especially curious about all of this is that Palin had a more obvious and productive route, which she’s inexplicably chosen to ignore. As Chris Orr recently noted, “Perhaps the most mystifying element of Palin’s recent forays into nuttery is that, politically speaking, it would be difficult to come up with stupider way to position herself in the wake of her v.p. run. The base already loves her — the diehard pro-lifers, the hands-off-mine individualists, the anti-elitist brigades, you name ’em. Where she has (deepening) trouble is with everyone else: moderates, socially liberal libertarians, DC-establishment types, and anyone who places a premium on basic competence.”

Palin had an opportunity to prove her critics wrong. She could have returned to Alaska after last year’s campaign, studied up on public policy, and built up some kind of record in office, preferably with some achievements. Instead, Palin has become an even more rigid ideologue. Given a chance to prove herself as leader, Palin has decided she’d prefer to walk away, blinded by a combination of ambition and misplaced arrogance.

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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.