Donald Trump won the South Carolina GOP primary on Saturday, a victory that places him as the front runner for the Republican nomination.
“There is nothing easy about running for president,” Trump told supporters. “It’s tough, mean, nasty, vicious. And when you win, it’s beautiful.”
The results shook out the race, as Jeb Bush told supporters announced that he would suspend his campaign after a disappointing finish. Having entered the race as the presumptive front runner, with more than $100 million initially raised for his SuperPAC backing his candidacy, Bush never gained traction.
“I congratulate my competitors who are remaining on the island,” Bush told supporters, a nod to the extent to which Trump, a reality TV star, shook up the race.
The Associated Press and a number of news networks called the race for Trump about a half hour after polls closed in the state.
Marco Rubio was leading Ted Cruz in the race for second place, hoping to claim the position as an alternative to Trump, whose position atop of the field was unthinkable when he entered the race last June.
“After tonight, this has become a three-person race and we will win the nomination,” Rubio said.
Another candidate, John Kasich, called it a “four person race,” although he failed to make the top three in South Carolina voting.
“We are the only campaign that has beaten and can beat Donald Trump,” Cruz told his supporters.
Early exit polls showed Trump winning moderate Republicans and evangelical voters in the state.
In his victory speech, Trump did not mention Bush’s exit, but he countered the notion that his rivals will benefit as other candidates abandon their campaigns. “As people drop out, I’m gonna get a lot of those votes too,” Trump insisted.
Trump has defied notions that some of his most outrageous comments would prove a turnoff to primary voters. Instead, he has capitalized on anger at the party establishment, seizing on issues like immigration and trade and a distrust of longtime politicians.
Trump’s campaign in recent days was marked by bizarre twists, such lashing out at Pope Francis when it appeared the Pontiff called him un-Christian for his stance over building a border wall. But Trump moderated his criticism, noting that what the Pope said was more equivocal. On Friday, Trump said he was boycotting Apple products over the company’s decision not assist the FBI in unlocking the encryption an iPhone from one of the San Bernardino shooters. One early exit poll ran third with late deciders.
Trump’s win came after an especially nasty campaign in that state, highlighted be a debate a week ago in with he clashed with Cruz and Bush.
Adopting what have been talking points from the left, Trump criticized Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, over the decision to invade Iraq, going so far to say that the administration lied about the presence about weapons of mass destruction. He also said that the administration failed to respond to warning signs in advance of 9/11. Trump’s criticism didn’t seem to hurt him, even though the former president campaigned with his brother.
Trump at one point threatened to sue Cruz for defamation over an anti-abortion ad, while Cruz seemed to welcome the litigation, and indicated that he’d like to depose his rival.
The attacks continued right up until the voting began. “Remember that Marco Rubio is very weak on illegal immigration,” Trump tweeted early Saturday. “South Carolina needs strength as illegals and Syrians pour in. Don’t allow it.”