Hair by agonising hair, day by painful day, the bandaid was pulled off.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Barnaby Joyce and coalition MPs had about 24 hours where they thought he had pulled out of a death spiral that began nine days ago.
Nationals MPs were lined up behind their leader.
The flood of revelations about his affair with staffer Vikki Campion had dried up.
His party didn’t want him gone.
Joyce leads 21 Nationals MPs in parliament and they are the only ones who can remove him, not the prime minister.
They see him as an electoral asset, a man who bombastically stands up for the regions, delivering money and votes.
His style isn’t for everyone, but it does just fine for many, many people in the country.
After a testy week, Joyce looked to have avoided the death spirals his colleagues had taken.
Speaker Bronwyn Bishop lasted 18 days before her inevitable resignation over taking a helicopter to a Liberal fundraiser.
Sussan Ley lasted 10 days before quitting the front bench over claiming travel expenses to buy a house on the Gold Coast.
Liberal MPs privately said they thought this scandal was going to end the same way, until Joyce appeared to pull it out of the fire on Wednesday.
Despite his mistakes, one MP summed up his worth to the coalition: ”We’re better with him than without him.”
Then Malcolm Turnbull pulled the bandaid off a bit further, ripping out some hairs with it.
He told parliament Joyce would be taking personal leave next week instead of being acting prime minister while Turnbull was in Washington.
Turnbull had not appeared fully confident in Joyce all week but that decision took him to the brink.
More questions then began to be raised about a rent-free townhouse Joyce was given to live in for six months, thanks to a rich business friend Greg Maguire.
Then there were questions about a function his department paid for at Maguire’s Armidale hotel.
And it was revealed Joyce’s push to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale meant taxpayers have spent almost $15,000 putting staff in that same hotel.
A passionate and strident Turnbull waited until 4.55pm on Thursday to rip the bandaid even further.
He said Joyce humiliated his wife, daughters and new partner, in making a “shocking error of judgment”.
Turnbull told Joyce to consider his position on his week off and when asked if the Nationals leader should resign, he offered this: ”Barnaby is the leader of the National party, okay? They are our coalition partners. They have a coalition agreement.”
The message was extremely clear. Quit, Barnaby, quit.
Turnbull’s distaste for the way Joyce left his wife of 24 years to shack up with his pregnant former staffer was mirrored in many circles.
Joyce and the Nationals were originally banking on voters feeling the humanity of a no-win situation as the scandal took the pub test.
“There’s a lot of people in the pubs who actually understand,” Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie told reporters.
Admittedly Joyce did have a tough choice – to leave his wife for his pregnant girlfriend, or stay at home and put her out on the street?
Either story is a bad look, although Joyce should be criticised for refusing multiple media offers to confirm the pregnancy and get out in front of the issue.
That reluctance likely came from some murkiness around the timing of the affair, including when Campion was working for him and Senator Matt Canavan. Ministers can’t employ partners or put them in other ministerial offices, and so the exact timing of Campion’s employment and the affair remain vague.
But Joyce’s decision to dig in and hope voters find some sympathy looked shot to pieces when Turnbull unloaded on Thursday.
This could have been over last week, with the bandaid ripped right off in one clean move.
Instead the coalition has lost any clear air it had waiting for Joyce to pull it off, hair by painful hair.