It's All Over for Jeb Bush, as Trump Trounces to Victory in South Carolina
Jeb Bush suspended his presidential campaign on Saturday, following a bruising loss in the South Carolina primary he had hoped might revive his bid to become the third member of his family elected to the White House.
Bush, the son and brother of US presidents, made the announcement in a somber speech before supporters in Columbia after earning just 8.3% of the vote with 67% reporting in the third primary contest of 2016.
“The presidency is bigger than any one candidate,” Bush said. “The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken.”
Bush, who struggled from the outset to get his campaign off the ground despite amassing a war chest of $100m, was visibly emotional and occasionally choked up as he spoke.
Flanked by his wife, Columba, and Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina who had emerged as a key surrogate for his campaign, Bush also paid tribute to his family legacy – taking turns to salute his father, former president George HW Bush, his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, and his brother, former president George W Bush.
“America truly loves them and respects them,” Bush said.
Bush’s decision to exit the race arrived as pressure mounted on the former Florida governor to bow out gracefully and pave the way for a viable alternative to stop Donald Trump and senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
But a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire just ahead of his former Florida ally turned rival, Marco Rubio, gave him a renewed sense of hope that South Carolina might just reverse his fortunes. The state had been historically favorable toward the Bush family, prompting the return of George W Bush on the campaign trail last week as part of a last-ditch effort to salvage his brother’s campaign.
In the end, however, it simply wasn’t enough.
Rubio continued to prove a formidable presence, earning the endorsement of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in a blow to Bush’s campaign. Haley had reportedly been torn between the two Floridians, and her backing of Rubio solidified the notion that Bush lacked a path to victory.
Bush also faced criticism from donors who poured money into his Super Pac, Right 2 Rise USA, which spent at least $20m in ads attacking Rubio. Over the course of several months, Bush backers privately grumbled to the media that the campaign and its allies looked less focused on promoting his candidacy and more fixated on a strategy to leave Rubio for dead.
The resulting bitterness between the two camps remained on full display, even as Bush dropped out of the race. As Bush confirmed he would depart the race, the hundreds of supporters who had gathered at Rubio’s watch party erupted into cheers.
But when Rubio took the stage in Columbia he praised Bush as “the greatest governor in the history of Florida”.
“I have incredible respect and admiration not just for Governor Bush but for his family and their service to our country,” Rubio said. “I believe and I pray that his service to our country has not yet ended.”
Cruz also praised Bush and “his extraordinary family” for running a campaign with “dignity”. Bush, he said in a tacit rebuke of Trump, “didn’t go to the gutter and engage in insults”.
Addressing his supporters, Bush thanked his campaign “who never, ever, ever gave up” through one of the more grueling slogs in recent memory. He also pointed to a silver lining: his wife Columba, who stood by his side fighting back tears.
“Tonight I’m going to sleep with the best friend I have and the love of my life,” Bush said.
“Thank you for the opportunity to run for the greatest office on the face of the earth,” he added, in closing. “I love you, God bless you.”
There were gasps in the room as Bush announced he was suspending his campaign. “No!” one man shouted.
Then the crowd chanted: “Jeb, Jeb, Jeb.”
Bush got big cheers as he left the stage, having thanked his family and supporters, although people began to file out almost immediately.
Sandra Bryan, 65, was visibly upset.
“It came as a total shock,” she said. “We were told he was in it for the long haul. But when we saw him come on to the stage that’s when we could tell.”
Bryan was wearing a Jeb! sticker on her blazer. “I’m very sad and very disappointed,” she said. “But Jeb has taken the high road as far as bringing the party together, which I’m very proud of.”
Shell Suber, 49, said his feelings were “hard to put into words”.
“You work really hard to convince people he’s the best candidate,” he said. “But you have to get enough people to understand and believe it.”
Suber, from Columbia, described this as “an odd year” for Republican politics. “There’s so many candidates. And then there’s a celebrity candidate who has made it so difficult for the rest of us to get our message out and make our case.”
Suber said he did not see what else Bush could have done.
“A lot of people will say he should have attacked Trump sooner but none of those people thought he would be a serious candidates back in June or July.”