Trump Wins Big in S.C.; Rubio Edges Cruz for 2nd; Bush Out
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Now it’s clear: If Republicans are going to deny Donald Trump their party’s 2016 presidential nomination, they are going to have to make history. That's because no GOP candidate who won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries has not become the Republican standard-bearer—and Trump has now won them both handily.
“I think we’re going to do very well,” Trump told his delirious supporters in Spartanburg. He congratulated Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who ran second and third in a near-dead heat. When his crowd, who greeted him with chants of “USA! USA!,” booed the mere mention of his opponents, Trump calmed them by saying, “Just one second. We can go back to war tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing easy about running for president,” Trump added. “It's tough, it's mean, it's nasty, it's vicious, but when you win it's beautiful!”
Whoever emerges as the main Republican alternative to Trump—if anyone does—it won’t be Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor, the brother and son of previous U.S. presidents, threw everything he had into South Carolina. Yet he only managed a fourth-place finish narrowly ahead of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who barely campaigned here—and not too far ahead of Ben Carson, who vowed to stay in the race despite finishing last.
Bush took the stage at his headquarters in this capital city and announced he is ending his campaign. “I'm proud of the kind of campaign we've run to unify our country,” the former Florida governor told his supporters. “The people of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire have spoken and I really respect their decision.”
Bush had gotten almost no traction in the polls after his dismal showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, but his camp had held out hope that the combination of his experience, thoughtful approach to the issues, and family legacy in this state would turn his fortunes around.
In 1988, South Carolina Republicans put his father on the road to the presidency, giving George H.W. Bush a runaway victory in the four-man race for the GOP nomination. Having defeated main challenger Bob Dole in New Hampshire, the elder Bush crushed him in South Carolina.
Twelve years later, George W. Bush lost New Hampshire to John McCain, but South Carolina put Jeb’s older brother back on track with a victory in a campaign even nastier than the 2016 edition. Although Jeb Bush didn’t use his brother’s brass-knuckle tactics, he did use his brother, who attracted large and enthusiastic audiences in the days before the election. What Saturday’s election returns revealed is that those crowds were paying their respects to an ex-president—not seriously giving his younger brother another look.
“This was hard,” said a choked-up Tom Dryer, an alum of the Bush 43 administration who came down from Michigan to help Jeb. “The Bush family is just so important to me.” But Dryer sensed from the time he arrived in South Carolina that voters here, as they have elsewhere, have moved on: “This week, I would hear people say, ‘I love the Bushes and I love Jeb, and I believe he’s the most qualified, but I don’t want to waste my vote.’”
For many voters, if not most, it was more than that. As Hillary Clinton is learning in her unexpectedly competitive race on the Democratic side, Americans who are tired of politics-as-usual are especially leery of family dynasties.
Mark Madison, a Republican voter from Columbia, spoke for many of them when he said he thinks Marco Rubio offers “a fresh start.” He views the Florida freshman senator as being “apart from the whole system.” He didn’t consider Jeb simply because he doesn’t want another Bush in the White House. “It’s been too much,” he said.
The candidate who may have received the biggest boost besides Trump was Rubio, who used key endorsements from top South Carolina Republicans to edge out Cruz, who had hoped to spring an upset here.
“After tonight this has become a three-person race,” Rubio told his supporters. “And we will win!”
A visitor to his post-election rally at Carolina Haven, a "tailgating facility" across the street from the football stadium here in Columbia, wouldn’t have known by the jolly atmosphere that Rubio had finished a distant second. They had reason to be happy. In New Hampshire, Rubio had been gathering steam for a strong finish when he delivered a dismal performance in a pre-election debate under withering criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The night of his disappointing results in the Granite State, Rubio owned up to his flubs and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t either, at least not here, and an ebullient Rubio sounded a triumphant tone.
“To me,” Rubio said, “South Carolina will always be the place of new beginnings and fresh starts.”
A few minutes later, at his own headquarters, Cruz struck a similar chord. “Friends, once again we have made history,” he said. “You, the good people of South Carolina and incredible volunteers all over the country, continue to defy the pundits and produce extraordinary results.”
The very idea of Trump on stage accepting the Republican nomination in Cleveland next July is so abhorrent to party professionals that pressure now begins on Bush and other GOP stalwarts to get behind Rubio. The problem here, as is often the case, is that and Bush and Rubio pursued the same voters, the campaign got negative and emotions between the candidates and their staffs are pretty raw.
Nonetheless, although Trump didn’t mention Bush’s name, neither Rubio nor Cruz committed that oversight. Both men prefaced their statement to their supporters with expression of grace notes toward Rubio's onetime mentor in Florida politics.
But Saturday night belonged to a New York billionaire running his first campaign in a time when voters are restive, frightened, angry—and determined to send a message.
“Right now, the stars are aligning for a Trump ticket,” former South Carolina Lt. Gov. André Bauer, who endorsed Trump. “As long as Cruz and Rubio are both in the race, Trump wins. If one of them gets out, then the race changes.”
Washington Bureau Chief Carl M. Cannon contributed to this article.