The first big hint that Tim Pawlenty wasn’t quite ready for the presidential race came in May, when Time‘s Michael Crowley asked him how he decided to seek the world’s most powerful office. “I don’t know,” Pawlenty replied. “I wish I had a good answer for you on that.”

From there, it was one setback after another for the former Minnesota governor. This morning, the first candidate to get into the race became the first candidate to get out.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is dropping out of the Republican presidential contest, after a disappointing third place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll yesterday.

“We needed to get some lift to continue on and have a pathway forward,” Pawlenty said this morning in an exclusive interview on “This Week.” “That didn’t happen, so I’m announcing this morning on your show that I’m going to be ending my campaign for president.”

He added in a statement, “Obviously the pathway forward for me doesn’t really exist, and so we’re going to end the campaign.”

On paper, Pawlenty looked well positioned to be a perfectly credible, top-tier candidate. When Jon Chait argued in the spring that Pawlenty should probably be considered the frontrunner, the case didn’t seem at all silly.

But the ensuing five months have been less-than kind to the former governor. Pawlenty struggled to raise money, saw his poll numbers evaporate, faltered in debate performances, ran on an electability platform that didn’t resonate, and found himself easily eclipsed by fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann, who proved far more effective in generating media attention and enthusiasm from right-wing activists.

The poor showing in Ames, coupled with Rick Perry’s entrance into the race, left Pawlenty with no realistic shot at the nomination. Rather than pursue a vanity exercise, he wisely chose to cut his losses.

It’s tempting to ask where Pawlenty’s support will go now that he’s left the race, but in truth, he had so little support, his departure won’t really affect the race in any meaningful way.

And with that, the graveyard of great-on-paper candidates — Bill Richardson, Phil Gramm, Bob Graham — gets another member.

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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.