HOW DOES ONE SCREW UP AN EXPLORATORY ANNOUNCEMENT?…. There’s a reasonable debate to be had over whether the political world should take Newt Gingrich’s presidential ambitions seriously. I tend to think the disgraced former House Speaker has about as much chance of getting elected as I do, but I can appreciate why the discussion is at least worth considering.

But before we get to that stage, it’s worth noting the state of Gingrich’s “campaign,” such as it is.

Aides to the former Speaker assured reporters that Gingrich would announce a presidential exploratory committee yesterday. But that’s not quite what happened — Gingrich instead told reporters that he has a website, and continues to explore whether to explore.

Everything from the false start to his site’s awkward name — — has left folks wondering what on earth Gingrich is doing.

Coming from a notoriously impulsive candidate, who has repeatedly entertained and then ruled out presidential bids in the past, the whole thing came across as yet another political fake-out. […]

After he and his aides spent days drumming up anticipation for a critical announcement, the end result was at best an incremental, nuts-and-bolts shift in the direction of running.

And at worst?

“It was a disaster,” said Ed Rollins, the veteran GOP presidential strategist. “It’s not something that’s going to be long-lasting, but it’s the first impression people have of the new Newt.”

“Especially when the history is there, where he marched to the line and walked away, he really needed to make this a perfect start,” Rollins said.

It’s probably safe to say this fell short of “a perfect start.”

What’s most interesting to me is how Gingrich managed to screw this up. By some accounts, he first started weighing plans for a presidential campaign in 1995. He proceeded to almost run in 2000 and 2008, and he’s been gearing up for the 2012 race for the better part of two years.

In other words, Gingrich has been working on this, off and on, for 16 years. After all that time, and all that planning, how does someone manage to botch what should be the easiest part — the announcement?

In terms of an explanation, the reason for the false start has less to do with indecisiveness and more to do with Gingrich overseeing a shady financial empire, featuring a variety of entities, all of which have hefty budgets, none of which appear to do real work, and all of which have been credibly accused of ethically-dubious fundraising practices.

In order to run for president, Gingrich would have to disentangle himself from his own sketchy enterprises. This hasn’t happened.

Chances are, most of the public won’t know or care about these false starts. But when it comes to the political establishment — including donors — Gingrich hoped to prove this week that he’s ready for the big time. That’s a much tougher sell 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.