Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush tells supporters in South Carolina that he is ending his campaign for president. (Mark Makela / Getty Images)

Cathleen Decker and Seema Mehta
February 20, 2016

He launched his campaign in the warmth of a Florida summer, hailed as the candidate who melded a new, multicultural Republican appeal, a family history of winning and the most formidable fundraising machine his party had ever built.

Eight humiliating months later, in the South Carolina winter, defeated once again by Donald Trump, John Ellis Bush gave up, making him the most prominent casualty of an unruly presidential contest and marking a stunning public repudiation of a family that defined GOP success for decades during two turns in the White House.

Jeb Bush’s withdrawal from the race came as Trump handily won South Carolina’s primary, advancing another significant step toward the party’s nomination. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas were battling for second place.

By dropping out, Bush could help the party consolidate against Trump, although even if all his votes in South Carolina had gone to one of the two senators, Trump still would have prevailed.

The heady promise of Bush’s start made his fall that much more dramatic. The campaign’s launch in June opened with a splashy call to action that was presidential in scale and embracing in tone, particularly toward the voters whom GOP leaders had identified as a crucial target after the party’s loss in 2012.

Latin music blared, and speakers — including Bush — addressed the Miami audience in Spanish. His slogan added an exclamation point to suggest enthusiasm: “Jeb!” Bush employed his Mexican-born wife and his bilingual children and imported members of his famous family to craft a compelling image.

“He is the new America. He is the new Republican Party,” said one announcement speaker, state Sen. Don Gaetz.

It was everything a candidate could dream of — except for an almost total lack of appeal to GOP voters.

Bush had sought to resurrect the political fortunes of a family partially sullied by the misadventures of his brother, George W. Bush. But he was hobbled by an inability to deal with both the fallout of his sibling’s presidency and an angry, disaffected GOP electorate that despised the party establishment he personified and rejected its call to reach out to minority voters.

Out of office for more than eight years before he jumped into the presidential race in June, Bush appeared oblivious to the staunchly conservative direction the party had taken in his absence, a change driven by activist reactions to the presidencies of his brother and his father, George H.W. Bush.

He persisted in believing that people would eventually embrace a studious, serious candidate in a race filled with rhetoric-flinging rookie politicians and celebrity outsiders. But he failed to gauge the depth of animosity toward him and his family, and the more genteel Republican Party they championed.

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