The Liberal base had already voted
When the 83 federal Liberals gathered in their party room in Parliament House at 9am yesterday the room was packed with a pressing crowd. It wasn't just the politicians in the room; it was the palpable but unseen presences that would, ultimately, decide that a new leader was required.
The proverbial elephant in the room was joined by the metaphorical rhino, hippo, and water buffalo - the base of the Liberal Party - and the broadcaster Alan Jones, whose disembodied presence was also palpable, and influential.
Malcolm Turnbull had long languished in the opinion polls, but now his party's grassroots had mobilised against him. ''I have never seen anything like it,'' said Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells when I called to ask why she publicly abandoned Turnbull's leadership on Friday. By yesterday afternoon her office had logged almost 8000 emails and calls opposing the proposed emissions trading scheme.
By my rough estimate, more than 400,000 such emails and calls have been sent to the 99 federal Coalition members over the past two months.
It is an estimate Senator Cory Bernardi, from South Australia, thinks is conservative.
Fierravanti-Wells sent me a representative sample of the voluminous, vehement messages, such as this:
''As long-term Liberal voters, we are deeply concerned about recent events; it seems utter lunacy to push through the ETS right now … We can no longer vote for the Liberal Party if Malcolm Turnbull remains as leader.''
Or this: ''Malcolm Turnbull must resign as leader of the Liberal Party. He sounds more Labor than Liberal and has betrayed this nation.''
This is what made the Liberal Party room so crowded yesterday, the crush of opinion from ordinary Australians that members brought into the room with them. And this outpouring came well before Turnbull's personal and divisive comments about his Liberal opponents on the weekend.
Turnbull was also bruised by a public clash with Jones, a highly influential figure with the Liberal base in NSW. This is some of their tart on-air exchange on October 2:
Jones: ''Hang on, woah woah woah woah, so he [Kevin Rudd] takes to a double dissolution election, and wins, and the Opposition Leader is such a pathetic debater and forensic arguer that he's got no hope of getting across to the electorate the very valid points that this is a destructive piece of legislation to the national economy. Don't you have confidence that you can win that debate?''
Turnbull: ''Alan, I can tell you something - there is no way that I could win, or indeed I could conduct a campaign, based on doing nothing on climate change.''
Jones: ''You're not doing nothing on climate change.''
The discussion was interrupted by a break, then Turnbull got testy:
''OK, well, let's just be serious, let's just be really serious, deadly serious here. One of the major banks, one of the major lenders to those generators came and saw me the other day and urged me to reach agreement with the Government on the scheme, to move amendments along the lines that I have already proposed, which will ensure that the generators are properly compensated, and they said we need to get this scheme settled so that we have sufficient certainty going forward to enable ourselves to keep lending to that industry.
So, you know, I am sorry to inject a bit of commercial reality into this discussion, but that is the very issue you are talking about.''
Since then Jones has continued to crusade against the emissions trading scheme. On October 27 I had a long private talk with him. We discussed the internal ructions. I mentioned someone I thought could galvanise the party if he came to Canberra in a few years.
No, Jones replied, he thought there would be another process similar to the one where the Liberals, after churning through leaders, turned to John Howard. He thought they would again turn to a tough veteran, somebody the media had written off.
Did he have anyone in mind?
Jones was already looking past Turnbull. He regarded Abbott as the best available, not merely the last man standing, in a party that had, in less than two years, lost or expended six leaders or potential leaders - John Howard, Peter Costello, Brendan Nelson and, in the space of one bloody hour yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton.
He believed Abbott, like Howard, was widely underestimated and could do a much better job of mining the electorate on visceral issues like immigration and higher taxation, a road Rudd had chosen to take via the emissions trading scheme.
Abbott, he believed, as a plain-spoken, mortgage-bound, often painfully frank man, could cut through with voters in a way Turnbull's Point Piper patina never would.
That was five weeks ago. The elephant in the room had spoken.