The day after his resounding defeat in the New Hampshire primary, George W. Bush set about winning back public support in a surprisingly light-hearted mood. Travelling on board his campaign aircraft, he was asked if a recent emotional appearance alongside his father, former President Bush, had cost him votes.
The Texas governor glanced over his shoulder, saw a television producer's video camera, and jammed his face into the lens.
Turning round he delivered a straight answer. "If people expect me to distance myself from my family, they have the wrong candidate. My family is a part of me." He finished by wheeling back to the camera to say: "Hi Mom."
Mr Bush's family may be a part of the 43rd president's character, but it is hard to imagine either his patrician father or disciplinarian mother engaging in such public clowning.
Yet there he was, after his second primary defeat in Michigan, goofing around on his aircraft again. As reporters questioned him, he stumbled around wearing a sleeping mask, saying: "I cannot hear you. I cannot see you. I am going to sleep."
The playful public persona of George Walker Bush can seem hard to reconcile with either his clear determination to win the White House, or his pledge to restore integrity to the Oval Office.
But it would be wrong to dismiss this performance as a sideshow to his political career. In fact, Mr Bush's particularly personal and informal approach to politics underpins his approach towards governing. His political philosophy is rooted in his personal charisma and his talent for striking fast and close friendships.
The most consistent theme of his campaign was his ability to bridge the partisan divide - whether in Texas or Washington. Under the slogan of "Bringing America Together", his transition has reaffirmed his promise to work as "a uniter, not a divider".
That sentiment also underpins his approach to foreign policy, where Mr Bush is most concerned to nurture US allies. His Democratic critics argue that his approach is naive and suggest that his advisers will control the administration's foreign policy.
But Mr Bush's reliance on his personable nature will face its biggest test in a Washington still engulfed in post-election turmoil.
Faced with an almost evenly divided Congress, Mr Bush is caught between two factions. On one side are conservative Republicans who have been thwarted for eight years by the Clinton administration. On the other are his Democratic opponents whose frustrations at the excruciatingly close election are only just beginning to boil.
At the end of September, Mr Bush said how he was preparing to deal with those pressures. "Mark my words. I am going to have more problems with members of my own party than I will with Democrats," he said.
Citing his own battle with conservative Republicans in Texas over English-only schooling, he said: "If anybody comes to me demanding this and telling me to do that, they'll be finished. They tried to do that in Texas with English-only. But I said: 'No. You are going to destroy this party by being extremist'."
Mr Bush's account of his leadership tests suggests that he is prepared to engage in the kind of "triangulation" espoused by Mr Clinton after Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994. But his willingness to reject the most partisan wing of his party is likely to bring him in direct conflict with Tom DeLay, his fellow Texan and the House majority whip.
Such strategic thinking fascinates Mr Bush. One of his biggest sources of pride is his repositioning of the Republican party during his presidential campaign.
"I had to change the imagery in my party," he said in September. "I had to change the idea that my party was against things. Against immigrants. Against public schools. I wanted people to know I was for something, so that people wanted to hear what I stood for."
Mr Bush's success is that he shifted his party's image without tearing up its ideological roots. In policy terms his instincts remain conservative. On economic issues he takes a laissez-faire view of business regulation and placed across-the-board tax cuts at the heart of his campaign agenda.
On foreign affairs he takes a hardline approach to Cuba, a hostile view of the Chinese government and backs a substantial investment in the US military.
On social issues he is opposed to abortion and supports the private-sector delivery of public services.
However, his over-riding approach to such issues is to set a direction and let others work out the policy details.
Mr Bush views his executive role as the job of assembling a team of talented people and delegating power to them. "One of the things you'll find," he told CBS television this month, "is I'm a delegator. I surround myself with the very best people I can find. And I set goals. And I delegate. And I hold people accountable for achieving the goals. Strong, good people, you know, want to serve a president who is a delegator."
Trust is based on loyalty within Mr Bush's team. His inner circle in Austin has remained unchanged throughout his time as Texas governor, and is destined to follow him to the White House. The importance of such bonds among Mr Bush's closest advisers helps explain why he has recruited senior staff from his father's administration.
Andrew Card, his designated chief of staff, was deputy White House chief of staff at the end of the Bush administration. Dick Cheney, Mr Bush's choice for vice-president, who served as defence secretary in the last Bush cabinet, is known for his discreet and loyal nature.
Surrounded by such experienced advisers, there seems little doubt that Mr Bush will take a less hands-on approach to the details of his administration's policy than Mr Clinton. Senior aides to Al Gore have repeatedly argued that Mr Bush would be a weak chief executive, leaving power in Mr Cheney's hands.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the presence of such experienced advisers means that President Bush will be a weak chief executive.
In fact he appears to enjoy being underestimated and proving what he calls "the punditry" wrong. His ability to manage expectations - and to beat low expectations - has proved one of Mr Bush's most effective political skills.
The man from the humble oil town of Midland, west Texas, surprised his critics by largely winning his televised debates against his more articulate and experienced rival. Those same critics ignored his apparent unfamiliarity with foreign policy, when Mr Bush wrongly asserted that European nations needed to place peacekeeping troops in the Balkans. But their reviews were glowing because Mr Bush appeared to "hold his own" against Mr Gore.
After the extraordinary partisan conflict over the contested election it is hard to imagine that expectations of president-elect Bush could be much lower.
He will surely relish the prospect of proving the pundits wrong about what he can achieve in Washington.