Before Jeb Bush even launched his presidential campaign, he lined up millions of dollars in backing and big name endorsements.The intention was to scare off anyone who thought they could even compete. It was a page from the Bush political playbook. It became known as 'shock and awe', an unfortunate reminder of another Bush presidency and of an obstacle to overcome.
The questions remained – did the US want another Bush in the White House? Did the Republicans even want another Bush on the ticket?
Straight from the start, Bush stumbled. He was asked if, 'knowing what we know now', he would still have invaded Iraq. Here was a dilemma for the former Florida governor. Attack his brother, attack the policy or say he’d back a controversial and, some would say, discredited decision? He took four days to get his position right. The fact he didn’t foresee such a question was troubling. Then, in the debates, he allowed himself to be bullied by Donald Trump. The businessman called him weak and low energy and even shushed him when he spoke. The man who had a commanding lead in the early polls spent millions and watched his numbers drop.
Iowa was never likely to be fertile ground for him – so he largely ignored the state. He thought the voters in New Hampshire would appreciate him. But South Carolina? Oh, South Carolina was Bush territory. He bravely told reporters back in September: 'I’m going to win South Carolina. Take that to the bank'.
Jeb brought his mother to campaign for him, a woman America adores. He brought in his brother, the last Republican president George W Bush who actually won in South Carolina, beating an insurgent 'outsider' John McCain, back in 2000. He courted senior figures in the party establishment in the state. He won the endorsement of Senator Lindsey Graham, a former presidential contender himself. He had campaigned for the popular governor, Nikki Hailey, and helped her draw up her education plan.
But there were signs not all was well. A Bush-supporting political action committee announced it was pulling advertising it had pre-booked on television for Super Tuesday, 1 March – the day when several states hold their nomination contest. It seems any confidence they had in Jeb was gone. And then Governor Hailey spurned the overtures from his team and threw her backing behind Florida senator Marco Rubio.
Jeb continued to campaign with dignity, pushing his ideas, convinced he could still win. But he found that popularity was not transferable. And as the results began to trickle in on Saturday night, he knew his race was run. He went in front of the cameras and outlined again why he thought he would make a good president. But he added he knew the voters didn’t agree. And so he was suspending his campaign. A few people cried 'No'. Bush could only reply 'Yeah, Yeah'. And for a moment, it looked as if he realised that he would not be following his father and brother into the Oval Office and that brought a pause, a deep breath, and almost a tear. As an exit it was quiet and dignified, a lot like the man himself.
So where did it all go wrong?
First it is clear that, while politicians talk and promise change, this time the voters were going to try to make that happen. The old faces were out, the established names to be ignored. People wanted new and different. First term senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio entered the race. They were new to a national audience and people wanted to hear what they had to say. An old face and an old name like Bush didn’t match the mood.
And then there was Donald Trump. His campaign might have initially been regarded as a joke, but he knew where his biggest threat was. And so he attacked Jeb relentlessly. In fact, his twitter assaults made Jeb the victim more than all the other candidates combined. With Trump’s statements being given wall-to-wall coverage by the US media, Jeb was forced to defend against a constant stream of invective. He couldn’t hit his stride. His poll numbers fell. Rapidly.
There was also deep concern from many in the Republican Party about the Bush positons on immigration and education. They simply didn’t seem to chime with the core. Jeb Bush’s believed they had to place themselves in a position to win the general election, even if it cost them a few primary votes. Jeb promised to govern as he campaigned.
It was thought he was the establishment’s choice. Seventeen Republicans started campaigns to be president. Now only four realistically have a chance. Jeb Bush is not one of them.
Alan Fisher is a senior Al-Jazeera correspondent