The decision to suspend his campaign comes after the former Florida governor delivered a poor showing in South Carolina.
By ELI STOKOLS 02/20/16 08:41 PM EST Updated 02/20/16 09:40 PM EST
Jeb Bush, unable to muster enthusiasm for his presidential bid beyond the family network that helped him raise a record sum exceeding $150 million, is suspending his campaign following a disappointing finish in South Carolina.
The decision follows a string of underwhelming primary finishes for the former Florida governor, including in New Hampshire where he invested heavily and bet on a massive ground organization but still finished behind Donald Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz.
He also took only 2.8 percent of the vote in Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses, despite having outspent his rivals there, too, and campaigned until the very end. In South Carolina on Saturday night, he was on track to finish a distant fourth. His archrival Trump trounced the field with 33 percent of the vote, while Cruz and Rubio were running in a virtual tie with roughly 22 percent.
“In this campaign I have stood my ground, refusing to bend to the political winds,” Bush said on Saturday night, with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham standing by his side.
Choking up at times, Bush said he will still fight for a conservative vision of America. “Despite what you might’ve heard, ideas matter, policy matters. And I truly hope that these ideas that we’ve laid out will serve as a blueprint for a generation of conservative leaders.”
The former Florida governor did not mention Trump by name during his remarks, but appeared to take swipes at the Republican frontrunner, who played a major role in Bush’s cratering.
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“I firmly believe the American people must entrust this office who understands that whoever holds it is a servant, not the master, someone who will commit to that service with honor and decency,” Bush said.
The two candidates most likely to benefit from Bush’s departure from the race offered praise Saturday night.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who was holding on to a second place lead, said that Bush was the “greatest governor in the history of Florida” and called him and “extraordinary” husband and father.
“I believe and I pray that his service to our country has not yet ended,” Rubio told supporters. “I pray for him and his family tonight as they move forward in other endeavors in their life.”
And Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was exceeding expectations with a fourth place showing, fired off a tweet praising Bush: “.@JebBush fought hard every day. He was a great governor and is a great man. -John.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, trailing a close third to Rubio, also congratulated Bush on Facebook for “a hard-fought campaign” and wished “him and his wonderful family all the best.”
Thanks to his massive financial advantage, Bush had the organization and infrastructure in place to go deep into this nomination fight. He is on the ballot in 43 states. But he never garnered the popular support to match his backing from much of the GOP’s donor class; and the pressure of losing appears to have become too much.
That pressure came mostly from donors who’ve waited months to see more of a return on their investments. Following New Hampshire, many were out of patience. For weeks, many Bush loyalists have grumbled openly about Right to Rise, the super PAC Bush launched in January and entrusted to long-time confidant Mike Murphy, attacking Rubio, who Bush still calls “a close friend.” While some groused that their money was being used to weaken perhaps the party’s strongest nominee, many others worried about the damage being done to the Bush family legacy.
With Bush out of the race, establishment donors will finally be free to shift their support with hopes of consolidating mainstream Republicans around a singular, electable alternative to Trump or Ted Cruz. Rubio is expected to be a major beneficiary of Bush’s exit. The senator said Saturday night that he has “an incredible affection and admiration” for his former Florida colleague.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee who flirted with a 2016 run before Bush’s money prowess kept him on the sidelines, praised Bush in a Facebook post.
“Today, Jeb Bush followed his family’s pattern of putting country above himself. His campaign has been about answers to real problems and about policies to strengthen our country. It has been a campaign conducted in the finest tradition of dignity and integrity and Jeb Bush gave it his all: he can have no regrets,” he said.
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Bush ran as an executive with a record of conservative governance in a purple state, but he found that voters were more drawn to less experienced, angrier, anti-establishment voices in the race. He went heavy on policy proposals, giving a number of carefully crafted speeches, but voters paid scant attention. He thought he could persuade voters to come around to his more moderate views on immigration reform and Common Core, but the electorate only moved further to the right.
Trump, who entered the race in June a day after Bush’s official campaign launch, seemed to relish the role he played in Bush’s demise. The businessman’s hardline stance on curtailing illegal immigration made Bush a natural foil, and the former Florida governor struggled for months through the summer and fall to figure out how to respond to Trump, who shot past Bush to the top of the polls and remained there. And Trump’s withering dismissal of the wonky, patrician Bush as “low energy” lastingly defined the former frontrunner in the eyes of many voters.
Trump, in his victory speech on Saturday night, had gracious words for his rivals and almost echoed Bush’s oft-repeated comment that presidential campaigns are not “bean bag.
“There’s nothing easy about running for president,” Trump said.
Eliza Collins contributed to this report.