If you’d offered to bet against Jeb Bush last June, you would have found plenty of people willing to give you good odds. Bush, the son and brother of the last two Republican presidents, seemed a lock to win the 2016 nomination. He quickly amassed a war chest of more than $100 million, drawing on the vast network of Republican donors that his family has cultivated through the years. Americans were grumbling loudly and often about the prospect of another Bush/Clinton election.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Instead of dominating the race, Bush was immediately shoved into the margins by Donald Trump, who announced his candidacy the day after Bush announced his. Trump quickly tagged Bush as “low energy,” a criticism that hit the mark in a way few political insults ever do. Though maintaining an intense campaign schedule, Bush failed to overcome that critique; his low-key, deliberate style on stage just wasn’t what voters were looking for this time around.
To be sure, though, Bush’s path to the nomination would have been rocky even without Trump in the mix. His positions on immigration and Common Core are well outside the conservative zeitgeist, and even though his record in Florida is virtually unassailable, he came to be seen as something of a RINO.
But even if you took all of that out of the equation, Bush might have struggled. For two straight elections, Republicans have lost by backing moderate, mainstream, establishment candidates. Even for voters who loved the last two Bush presidents, there was – and continues to be – concern about making the same mistake a third time.
“I’m proud of the campaign we ran to unify our country, and to advocate conservative solutions, but the people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken,” Bush said in his concession speech. “Tonight I am suspending my campaign.”
Bush grabbed only 8% of the vote in South Carolina, falling well behind the top three finishers – Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Running out of money and facing pressure from party leaders to drop out, Bush had little choice but to bring his campaign to an end. He was gracious in bowing out, avoiding what must have been a strong temptation to take a parting shot at Trump.
Bush never seemed to grasp how angry conservatives are about President Obama, the direction of the country, and the utter incompetence of the Republican-led Congress. Voters aren’t looking for someone who will make minor corrections to Obama’s agenda; they want someone who will take a pencil eraser to the last eight years. Jeb Bush was never going to be that guy, and his exit from the race proves that voters are looking forward, not back.