Look, I don’t want to say that former Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign has been one pathetic mistake after another — but what exactly has gone right for the man?

His poll numbers, such as they are, are deflating, and he now finds himself in a distant fourth place in the RealClearPolitics polling aggregate, behind former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and businessman and conservative activist Vivek Ramaswamy.

He began his campaign fittingly, with an introductory speech by a mostly anonymous low-level political ally who apologized for the fact Pence seems to often be “mayonnaise on toast“-level bland. Pence, for the most part, hasn’t exactly done much to disabuse voters of the notion, and when he has, it hasn’t been good. (Arguably, his epitaph will probably be the four words he told Tucker Carlson as he began to answer a question about endless spending on Ukraine while American cities wither and rot: “That’s not my concern.”)

And now, Pence released an advertisement about energy prices in which he looks to be daft enough that he doesn’t even know how to pump gas.

The ad itself is pretty pro forma: “Mike Pence here. Remember $2-a-gallon gas?” Pence said at the beginning of the advertisement, inserting the nozzle into the gas tank of his truck. “I do. And then Joe Biden became president of the United States and launched his war on energy.”

“Since that time, gasoline prices are up 60 percent, electricity prices are up 25 percent,” Pence continued. “Joe Biden’s war on energy is causing real hardship for working families, small businesses and family farms.”

“But we’ve got a plan to relieve all that,” he said. “We just unveiled a Pence energy plan that will not only put our country back on a path to energy independence, but by 2040, we will reclaim America’s role as the leading producer of energy in the world.”

You may have noticed what I didn’t say about the action in the video: namely, when Pence actually starts pumping the gas. That’s because he doesn’t. He just stands there as the machine continues beeping, prompting him to select a fuel grade. He doesn’t even pretend to squeeze the nozzle for effect:

The Pence energy plan, in which you pay nothing to fill up your truck because you couldn’t figure out how to fill up your truck.

The mistake didn’t go unnoticed on social media; as one commenter noted, “Who thought this was a good idea?”

Indeed, this seemed to be a common reaction, with many wondering if Pence’s cluelessness had to do with the fact he’s spent four years as vice president and the better part of three as a former veep:

This is hardly an excuse, though. As someone who originally hails from New Jersey — the last state in the union which absolutely refuses to even let you

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 pump your own fuel, thanks to appallingly stupid state laws meant, in large part, to create gas-station jobs the good ol’ Keynesian ditch-digging way —  I can tell you that having spent your formative years not filling up your own car isn’t an impediment to figuring out the intricacies of a gas nozzle. You have to be terminally out of touch to get to the point where the process isn’t totally intuitive to any functioning adult.

If Pence is utterly unfamiliar with how this all worked, I’d like to think there was some one on his staff who would go in, show Mr. Mayonnaise-on-Toast how to pumpy-wumpy the gassy-wassy, then tell him to do another take.

Indeed, such is the ineptitude of the Pence campaign that not only did the figurehead behind it not realize that the loud beeping from the gas pump indicated that he needed to, I dunno, do something, nobody who touched this footage — the cameraman, the video editor, the social media curator — realized something was wrong, either. That’s Ed Wood-level filmic ineptitude.

You can get away with this stuff if you’re a front-runner; President Joe Biden might forget what state he’s in (again) and then lie about getting arrested in apartheid South Africa while trying to visit Nelson Mandela (also again), and nobody’s going to throw him overboard.

But that’s not Pence, who can’t afford to make a misstep at this point in the presidential sweepstakes. While the entire Republican field trails former President Donald Trump in the polls by a substantial margin, Pence’s 5 percent compared to Trump’s 54 percent means he’s almost 50 points behind the front-runner. Not only that, but Ramaswamy has convincingly leapt over the former vice president to secure third place — and unlike Pence, he seems to be moving on up.

I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Pence as a politician — enough respect to tell him that this is no way for him to go out. The former veep seems lost, shorn of purpose, and painfully out of sync with the moment. When a candidate seemingly can’t figure out how to work a gas pump, it’s time for them to seriously re-evaluate their chances.

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