Republican Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother and son of past U.S. presidents, suspended his presidential campaign after a disappointing finish in South Carolina, a state he had counted on to revive his failing campaign.
Once assumed a formidable candidate because of his family’s political dynasty, his own substantive reputation and his support from business leaders, Bush withered quickly in a crowded primary field with a base that gravitated to the angry rhetoric of billionaire Donald Trump.
Bush had hoped to secure a foothold as the leading establishment candidate and hang on long enough for the field to winnow and allow a consensus candidate to overtake Trump. Instead, Bush found himself overtaken in the first three Republican nominating contests by Trump as well as by Bush's one-time protégé, Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American first-term U.S. senator also from Florida. Pressure mounted inside his own circle to drop out.
“The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision so tonight I am suspending my campaign," Bush said in South Carolina on Saturday night after Trump was declared the winner of the primary.
Bush, in an indirect entreaty to his party not to nominate Trump, said the U.S. "deserves a president for everyone” and that whoever holds the presidency “is a servant, not the master” and must serve with “honor and decency.”
While congratulating his rivals for “remaining on the island,” Bush said he had stood his ground, "refusing to bend to the political winds,” and that “despite what you may have heard, ideas matter. Policy matters.” He expressed love and respect for his brother and his father, whom he called “the greatest man alive.”
Even months before his formal entry into the race in June, Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee was raking in money and spreading it to Republican candidates to build loyalty and leadership credentials. But Bush’s compromise-oriented positions on education and immigration policy and dispassionate approach underwhelmed the base, while his early stumbles over if and how to defend his brother's Iraq War legacy hobbled his momentum.
Bush and his allied super-PACs raised $150.2 million in 2015, second only to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House field. Right to Rise USA spent more than $92.4 million through Jan. 31, dwarfing other groups, FEC filings on Saturday showed. Right to Rise's fundraising dried up in January, when it took in less than $400,000.
Former President George W. Bush, who remains popular in South Carolina polls, joined his brother on the campaign trail there last week. He said voters and world leaders alike could trust Jeb to be “measured and thoughtful” and follow through on his promises. While he never called out Trump by name, the ex-president said that “in my experience, the loudest person in the room is not always the strongest person in the room.”
Trump won the South Carolina primary decisively after trashing the Bush legacy in a debate last week, blaming 9/11 on George W. Bush and saying the Iraq invasion was based on lies.