THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PENCE’S DECISION…. Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, a darling of the far-right, has flirted for quite a while with the notion of a presidential campaign. Yesterday, however, the former House Conference chairman announced that he would skip the race for the White House.

Pence’s decision not to seek national office in favor of a likely run for governor of Indiana is a major blow to conservative activists and tea party leaders, who saw Pence as someone who could unite the traditional GOP base — evangelical and social conservatives — with the tea party’s fiscal hawks.

And it’s left a major opening for someone in a heavily crowded GOP presidential field: At the Value Voters Summit last year, Pence won the straw poll for both president and vice president, beating better-known candidates like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

“I am selfishly disappointed,” said Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center and longtime conservative activist who was among a group of Washington conservatives urging Pence to run for president — and whose support is now up for grabs. “I don’t have a number two. I had a number one and a whole bunch of people are running for number two.”

Nationwide, Pence is far from a household name, but in conservative circles, the guy is something of a giant. Pence’s willingness to consider a presidential campaign wasn’t just the result of an unhealthy ego; he was actively being pushed to run by the likes of Dick Armey and former Rep. Jim Ryun. Ralph Benko, a Republican consultant and veteran of the Reagan White House, actually created an organization committed to drafting Pence. “He’s the complete package,” Benko said of Pence last week.

In the short term, Pence’s announcement will cause some scrambling in 2012 circles, with other all-but-announced candidates reaching out to Pence’s backers for support. Indeed, the congressman will now have one of the year’s most sought after endorsements.

But stepping back, it’s worth pondering two questions: (1) why in the world would anyone consider Mike Pence a credible presidential candidate? and (2) how woefully underwhelming is the existing GOP 2012 field if major players were giving serious consideration to a dimwitted House member?

I can appreciate the fact that Pence’s unyielding right-wing voting record on literally every issue is appreciated by the far-right — he checks all the boxes, taking a very conservative line that satisfies all the various party factions.

But to say that the guy isn’t ready for prime time is a dramatic understatement. Pence has no areas of expertise, has no major pieces of legislation to his name, has demonstrated no working understanding of any area of public policy, and after spending five minutes watching him speak on any subject, it becomes clear that he’s conspicuously unintelligent.

I’m reminded of something Matt Yglesias wrote a while back about the Indiana congressman. “Mike Pence is a moron, and any movement that would hold the guy up as a hero is bankrupt,” Matt explained, adding, “I would refer you to this post from September about the earth-shattering ignorance and stupidity of Mike Pence…. [I]t’s really staggering. In my admittedly brief experience talking to him, his inability to grasp the basic contours of policy question was obvious and overwhelming.”

That Pence is skipping the presidential campaign is probably a good thing for the country. But that so many Republicans wanted him to run in the first place is a reminder of the sorry state of the Republican field and the contemporary GOP in general.

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.