He squeaked into office by the narrowest of margins -- a Texas governor from outside the Washington orbit who promised a new brand of politics to heal a divided nation.
Yet George W. Bush never governed like a president who harbored uncertainties or self-doubt about his capacity to lead.
President Bush arrived in Washington and forged ahead with an ambitious agenda -- deep tax cuts, vast changes in federal social programs, expansions of executive power and a broad remaking of energy and education policies.
Claiming a mandate by simply declaring its existence, his early successes dazzled his critics. With guru Karl Rove directing the action, Bush won a stunning series of political victories.
He muscled his agenda through a friendly Congress, and gained seats for his party in the 2002 midterm elections. His biggest triumph came in 2004, when he won a second term despite a widely unpopular war.
The "permanent" Republican majority he and Rove envisioned even seemed attainable as Bush plunged himself into his most ambitious legislative effort yet: a partial privatization of Social Security.
But the president who boasted about "political capital" in the heady days after his re-election now faces the worst of political fates as he enters his final year in office: borderline irrelevance.
The president's second term has been defined by legislative paralysis, marked by record-low approval ratings, presidential candidates who are running from his shadow, and a lingering war that's sapping his remaining reservoirs of support.
As he enters his final year in office with the war continuing, Republican candidates for president bolting from his shadow, and his party back in the minority in Congress, he is politically weakened, an early entry into lame-duck status.
And the poisonous Washington atmosphere he hoped to cure is just as nasty as it was when he came to office seven years ago.
"He's left our political institutions much more troubled than they were before," said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. "He didn't create the ideological polarization, but he magnified it."
The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows less than a third of the country approving of the way the president is doing his job, with a whopping 77 percent saying the country is on the wrong track.
It wasn't always this way for this president.
A polarized country rallied behind him after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and his approval ratings reached a high of 92 percent at one point.
"He had this huge burst of unity, used it well and nurtured it through Afghanistan," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas who has followed Bush's career since his days as governor of Texas.
That unity began to crumble -- like so much surrounding his presidency -- over the Iraq War.
President Bush's push to oust Saddam Hussein from power soon became more than a foreign-policy initiative; the president and his allies used it as a wedge issue against Democrats in the run-up to the 2002 elections.