Jeb Bush’s disappointing fourth place finish in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary wasn’t stunning, but his decision to announce he was leaving the presidential race immediately after the results came in was.
“The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken,” he told a crowd of supporters in Columbia less than two hours after the polls had closed. “I respect their decision. So, tonight, I am suspending my campaign.”
Rumors had abounded in recent days that the Bush campaign was running on fumes, and might have to stop paying staffers before Tuesday night’s caucus in Nevada.
As been well documented in his struggles during the campaign, though equipped with high recognition and big money, those assets became liabilities for Bush in a year where Donald Trump and Ted Cruz rose in the polls by rebelling against the GOP establishment, of which Bush was a card-carrying member of.
Bush now joins the ranks of former Florida Governors Claude Kirk, Reubin Askew and Bob Graham, all whose presidential candidacies never got off the ground, in 1984, 1976 and 2004, respectively.
Kirk, elected in 1966, was seriously considered as Richard Nixon‘s running mate in 1968 but lost out to Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew. Kirk lost the governorship in 1970, but it didn’t dampen his national ambitions. Although a Republican, he ran as a Democrat for president in 1984 in New Hampshire.
Reubin Askew beat Kirk in 1970, and in 1976, was considered a legitimate contender if he ran for the Democratic nomination (ultimately won by fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter). But Askew didn’t pull the trigger. He later ran in 1984, and did very poorly.
Then there was Bob Graham, whose 2004 campaign for president similarly went nowhere.
Bush’s problems were unique, however. While hailing from Republican royalty may have its benefits in some quarters (such as in Florida), the country- and especially the GOP base – didn’t hold the presidency of George W. Bush in very high esteem in 2016.
There was also his some policy positions that put him behind the curve from the beginning – specifically his support for Common Core federal education standards, and his moderate stance on immigration.
One similarity between Askew and Bush, USFSP political science Professor Emeritus Daryl Paulson says, was the timing. Speaking of Askew’s run, Paulson told Florida Politics last fall that, “If he had run for the White House in ’76 when Carter ran, I think he would have had greater success, I think he would overshadowed Carter in that campaign,” said Paulson. “But when he decided not to run, but did eight years later (in 1984), the timing just wasn’t right.”
In that respect, some analysts at least initially thought that Askew’s problems echo Bush’s to an extent.
Many Republicans though Jeb was their best potential candidate, certainly preferable to Mitt Romney, in 2012. However, coming just four years after George W. Bush‘s controversial tenure (who left office with an approval rating of just 40 percent in 2009), it simply was unpalatable for him to enter the race at the time.
Bush also ran in much of 2015 discussing the successes he had while Governor of Florida, a tenure in office that ended nearly a decade earlier. Paulson told Florida Politics last fall that part of Bush’s problem was that he was looking backwards, not forwards.
“After the debate I saw his post debate appearance, ” Paulson said. “He talked about ‘if you want an entertainer, that’s not me, I’m going to win the old-fashioned way.’”
“Well, that word itself is exactly what he needs to avoid, because people don’t want the old-fashioned way. They want the new, but he hasn’t been able to connect with the voter.”
And he never did.