Seven moments that explain why Jeb Bush’s campaign failed

Updated

MIAMI, Florida — For the past seven months I’ve been Jeb Bush’s professional stalker. It was my job to follow him wherever the campaign trail led – from a state fair to a score of American Legion Posts to debate halls in half a dozen states – all while aiming my camera and Twitter feed squarely in his direction.

Bush’s candidacy was always more policy wonk than showman, less social media than town hall and more dependent on yesterday than prescriptive for the future.

I followed the former Florida governor to more than 14 states, flying the equivalent of almost three times around the globe and driving more miles than I’ll ever be able to calculate. I’ve shot more hours of him taking selfies with voters than could ever air on television and my camera roll contains more pictures of him giving speeches than even his own mother would put in an album.

Now that Bush has ended his bid for the White House here are seven moments from the past seven months that stand out and reveal key elements to his campaign’s demise.

1). Hello Iowa, Goodbye Iowa

The Iowa State Fair is where the food is fried and cows are made of butter. It’s also the place where I covered Bush up close and personal for the first time in the campaign and where I quickly learned that the six-foot, three-inch tall candidate moves fast.

The governor traversed the fair grounds for nearly four hours as a sweaty and ragged press corps followed from the fried snickers booth to the beer tent - often walking backwards while filming and trying to outpace the governor who was headed in our direction like a speeding bullet.

But Bush’s heart was never in the Hawkeye State. He made the obligatory trip to the fair but spent little time in the state in the months that followed and watched the final caucus results come in from a hotel in New Hampshire. Iowa was never ‘Bush Country,’ but it’s never a good sign when a candidate is all but writing off a state and that’s pretty close to what Bush did in Iowa.

2). Even Last-Minute Shoppers Get the Trump Blues

Even Bush’s last minute trip to Wal-Mart the day before Christmas Eve wasn’t safe from my camera lenses as he bought gifts for charity and groceries for his favorite steak and guacamole meal.

12/23/15, 7:27 PM ET

Jeb Bush talks 2016, holiday traditions on shopping trip

On Wednesday, NBC News’ Jordan Frasier tagged along with Jeb Bush as the GOP candidate did some holiday shopping in Miami, Florida. The two discussed family holiday traditions, the 2016 race, and what sort of Christmas letter he would send Donald Trump.

The takeaways from the trip? His grandchildren love the movie “Frozen,” he was a board game fan growing up and a re-gift is fine, but a re-re-gift crosses the line. More important were Bush’s unprompted references to his primary foe, Donald Trump.

As we walked the aisles Bush would mention Trump unprompted, such as a moment when he held up a Monopoly board game, and again in the book department. Trump was on his mind and the way the business mogul successfully branded Bush a “low energy” candidate was something he just couldn’t shake.

Later in the race, Bush would boast of being the only candidate willing to go after Trump, but in the end it was too little, too late as Trump proved a more serious threat than the Bush campaign ever predicted.

3). Windows Were Made for Rolling and That’s Just What They’ll Do

There was one thing about Jeb Bush that is a reporter’s dream: he rarely ignored a question. That habit was nearly always on display when we would follow the candidate to his SUV and, without fail, he would roll down his window.

These window exchanges ran the gauntlet from news-of-the-day – like his first reaction to Nikki Haley’s Marco Rubio endorsement – to a simple wave and “see you at the next one.” My favorite exchange was in Columbia, South Carolina where Bush told us a man in the crowd had given him a Powerball ticket and jokingly pondered how he could turn the winnings into an FEC compliant campaign contribution if he won.

But it was Nikki Haley’s endorsement when Bush candidly told us he was “disappointed” and didn’t try to spin the news that was a true turning point. Before then there had been a slight sense of momentum for his campaign, but when Haley picked Rubio, any hint of that disappeared and the mood of the campaign took its final dire tone.

4). Bloodstains Eventually Show

After one of his largest events in mid-January in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Governor Bush was in a good mood and decided to volunteer some additional details to the press about an injured thumb he had been nursing, the casualty of a guacamole making mishap.

“I will point out something,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t give this much detail. But since you all travel as much as I do, my thumb has been still in recovery.”

“Is it getting worse?” the reporters asked.

“No,” he said, “but this morning I didn’t have a Band-Aid on it and I tried to put my buttons on, the buttons for my shirt, because it’s hard to do it with a thumb that doesn’t work. So I had to wear a tie today to cover up the blood on every one of the buttonholes,” Bush told us.

This exchange could easily be a metaphor for the candidate’s positive outlook throughout his campaign. As Trump surged he struggled, Bush I think truly believed the tide would turn and he was masterful at expressing that hope every time we asked … trying to cover up all the hints of blood that had appeared.

5). Even America’s Mom Can’t Save Him

It was a big deal when former First Lady Barbara Bush joined her son on the campaign trail, and when she sat behind him during a New Hampshire town hall it was clear that even former First Ladies are just moms at heart.

Mrs. Bush took out a hot pink cell phone and seemed to videotape part of her son’s speech, just like proud mothers the country over do every day.

This moment, and later when former President George W. Bush hit the campaign trail, was largely seen as the campaign using their last secret weapons. Once those had been deployed, there wasn’t much of a reserve to excite voters and draw additional crowds.

6). The Snowball Effect

Sometimes when you risk hypothermia it’s worth it. On a cold and snowy day in New Hampshire when I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the conditions, I was determined to get the quintessential New Hampshire campaign shot of the governor walking in the snow along his campaign bus.

I got the shot and then the governor gave me gold. Instead of just walking past my camera, he bent over to pack a snowball and threw it directly at my lenses.

Unfortunately for the governor, the snow was dry and didn’t make the ideal snowball, so as he threw it, it broke up in the air. Twitter was quick to tie the snowball to his candidacy - a candidate who by all accounts was made up of the right stuff, but just couldn’t hold it together.

7). The Final Answer

We didn’t know it when it happened, but our last interaction with Bush came on the morning of South Carolina’s primary as he faced our cameras for what would be one last round of questions.

I had helped to wrangle the press away from the idling motor of the governor’s waiting campaign bus in an attempt for crisper audio, but that apparently inspired the candidate to engage in some lighthearted teasing, making me ask the first question no less than three times, to the delight of his staff and my colleagues.

This was the final clue that the end was near. Any sense of stress was gone and the governor seemed more reflective and willing to joke than he had been for days. I can only assume it’s because he too felt the end was near. 

This article first appeared on NBCNews.com

The presidential campaign: Jeb Bush
At the start of the Republican presidential primary race, former Florida governor Jeb Bush was widely viewed as the establishment candidate to beat.

Jeb Bush

Seven moments that explain why Jeb Bush's campaign failed

Updated