Jeb Bush led the race. Now he's probably finished. What happened?

Former Republican presidential front-runner Jeb Bush stumbled badly in Wednesday night's GOP debate in Colorado, according to most observers.

Rick Wilking/REUTERS
Republican US presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush pauses at his podium in the midst of a commercial break at the 2016 US Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, October 28, 2015.

Whomever was declared the winner in Wednesday night's Republican debate, it was nearly unanimous who the loser was.

"Jeb Bush's campaign on life support," declared NBC News. "Jeb Bush is probably toast," wrote FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver. The Washington Post said he looked "overmatched and lost," and NBC's Chuck Todd said the mood after the debate "felt like a wake" for the former Florida governor. 

The most painful moment for Mr. Bush came early in the debate when he tried to land a (nervous, awkward) punch on Sen. Marco Rubio on his Senate voting record and missed, badly. 

To make matters worse, Senator Rubio, who was once Bush's political mentee and now, arguably, his superior in the GOP race, countered confidently, and landed the verbal jab. 

After calmly reciting a series of past pols who also missed a lot of votes, including Sen. John McCain, who Bush backed, Rubio delivered the clincher. “The only reason you are doing it now is because we are running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

After that, the rest of the debate went downhill for Bush, and now pundits and press alike are calling it the moment that ended his presidential campaign. 

Whether or not that's true, there's a silver lining in Jeb's story, mused The Atlantic. It's a sign that democracy is working. 

After all, Bush was supposed to be the frontrunner. 

Before he even declared his candidacy, he raised massive amounts of cash from donors to scare other candidates away.

He had access to the vast, wealthy, and influential networks of both his father and brother. 

He had name recognition, experience, and establishment cred. 

It was enough for The Washington Post to boldly declare, back in January, that “Jeb Bush has become the GOP front-runner.”

But voters didn't play along. 

An April Bloomberg poll found that 42 percent of potential Republican primary voters said they would never vote for Bush. Only 14 percent said they would seriously consider him.

And that was before his series of missteps, outlined by The Atlantic.  

In May, he said he would have invaded Iraq even knowing the country had no weapons of mass destruction, a remark that left even most conservatives dumbfounded. 

In July he said, “people need to work longer hours,” and announced, “We need to figure out a way to phase out” Medicare. In August, he said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars in funding for women’s health programs.” Then, the day after a fatal shooting at a community college in Oregon, he said, “Look, stuff happens.”

Of course, it's helpful to remember that at this point in the GOP race in 2007, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was leading the polls, and in 2011, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was leading. Ultimately, the nominees were Senator McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – both establishment favorites. 

Still, at this point, the consensus on Bush appears to be that money, connections, and a brand name do not translate into votes.

Which is why most Republican voters have long since moved on to other candidates.

And sometimes it seems Bush may be ready to move on, too. 

As he said in South Carolina over the weekend, "I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that."

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