Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary for the Republican presidential nomination Saturday, continuing to defy political convention and strengthening his grip as front-runner by posting his second straight primary victory.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was counting on South Carolina to give him significant bounce, received less than 8 percent of the vote and quit the campaign — a shocking end for the best bankrolled candidate in the field.
Trump earned a double-digit victory while garnering about 33 percent of the Palmetto State vote. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was leading Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by a slim margin for second place. Each had about 22 percent of the vote.
“It’s an incredible movement with incredible people. I tell ya,” a jubilant Trump told supporters at a victory party in Spartanburg. “South Carolina, we will never forget you.”
Trump urged supporters to carry him through the Nevada Republican caucus Tuesday and the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries, saying, “Let’s put this thing away.”
Bush’s decision could reshape the race, with Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich hoping to pick up most of his supporters.
Rubio called South Carolina a boost for him. “After tonight, this has become a three-person race, and we will win,” Rubio told supporters in Columbia, in a pitch he will use to try to get mainstream Republicans to rally behind him.
Though he’s yet to win a state, Rubio said he was “one step closer to being the 45th president” of the United States.
In a shot at Rubio, Cruz said he’s the only Republican to have won a state (Iowa) other than Trump. Cruz portrayed the GOP as a two-person race.
“We are the only campaign that has beat — and can beat — Donald Trump,” Cruz said in Greenville. “That is why Donald relentlessly attacks us and ignores the other candidates.”
In the months leading up to the vote here, political observers questioned whether Trump could win in a state where evangelicals comprise almost two-thirds of the GOP turnout. Cruz courted evangelicals especially hard, delivering Bible-spiced stump speeches in the final days of the campaign here.
But instead of social issues carrying the day, it may have been Trump’s outsider status that made the difference.
According to The Associated Press exit polls, Trump is backed by nearly 4 in 10 of those who were angry at the federal government, and a third of those who felt betrayed by politicians in the Republican Party.
Trump ran a campaign leading up to Saturday’s primary unlike his rivals’ efforts.
He said then-President George W. Bush failed on the Sept. 11 attacks and lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify an invasion. He repeatedly said Cruz was the “biggest liar” in politics. He even got into a verbal scrape with Pope Francis over his idea to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. He’s not a southerner; he’s a brash New Yorker.
And he still won.
Trump tried to dismiss the idea that Bush supporters would support anyone but him. “As people drop out, I’m going to get a lot of those votes also,” he said. “You don’t just add them together.”
The last three Republican candidates who won both the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries went on to win the nomination. Trump won a huge victory in New Hampshire just a week ago.
Kasich didn’t pin much on South Carolina and is hoping he’ll do better in more moderate states next month. He was running fifth in South Carolina, with about 8 percent of the vote.
But South Carolina dealt a death blow to Bush. He was running fourth with less than 8 percent.
“Tonight, I am suspending my campaign,” Bush said as the results came in, choking up as he thanked his family.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was running last with 7 percent.