Before the final results from South Carolina's Republican primary had been tallied Saturday night, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ended his presidential campaign.
Bush finished fourth with less than 8 percent of the vote, well behind Donald Trump — 2016's unexpected frontrunner who's dogged Bush for months. No amount of money or political connections seemed to buoy Bush, who didn't place within the top three of any this year's first three GOP nominating contests.
"The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken. I respect their decision," Bush said to supporters Saturday night.
Bush entered the race as a front-runner with a huge bank account but was a frequent target of Trump and at times his campaign struggled to respond. He had pulled out all the stops in South Carolina -- bringing in his brother, former President George W. Bush, who is viewed favorably among South Carolina Republicans, and his mother Barbara to the state to campaign for him.
In speaking to his supporters Saturday night, Bush implicitly denounced Trump's bombastic style and questioned his suitability for the presidency.
"I have had a front row seat to this office for much of my adult life. I have seen fallible men rise up to the challenges of our time, with humility, and clarity of purpose… to make our nation safer, stronger, and freer," Bush said. "I firmly believe the American people must entrust this office to someone who understands that whoever holds it is the servant, not the master. Someone who will commit to that service with honor and decency."
Addressing his supporters in the Palmetto State Saturday night, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Bush "a man who didn't go to the gutter," and praised him for running a substantive campaign.
Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finished effectively tied for second place, with Rubio getting about 1,000 more votes, but Bush's exit from the race made Rubio the bigger winner of the night, many GOP operatives agreed. Even before South Carolinians went to the polls, Rubio won big with the backing of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — a coveted endorsement Bush had sought.
"With Bush dropping out, the 'anyone but Trump and Cruz' crowd will now start to quickly unite behind Rubio, and that comes with big contribution checks," said John Brabender, a former senior strategist for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
GOP strategist Ron Bonjean predicted "We will likely see a floodgate of donors and grassroots support shift to Rubio."
Even with Bush still in the race, donations had already begun flowing to other candidates. Financial reports filed Saturday showed the super PAC backing him, Right to Rise USA, raised only $379,000 in January, most of which came from a single donor who gave a similar amount to the super PAC backing Rubio. Bush's official campaign raised only $1.6 million in January and had less than $3 million in the bank at the end of the month.
Bush had collected 31 endorsements from members of Congress, many of whom will likely be courted by Rubio in the days to come.
Rubio also acknowledged Bush — the Sunshine State's elder statesman — Saturday night, telling his supporters that Bush was "the greatest governor in the history of Florida."
"And I believe, and I pray that his service to our country has not yet ended," Rubio added.