I probably should add a question mark to the title of this post, since I can’t say with high confidence that the South Carolina primary actually will be the end of the presidential campaign for Jeb Bush. But yesterday, according to multiple reports, the “joyful” warrior was noticeably deflated when he appeared at the campaign event, following word that Nikki Haley was about to endorse Marco Rubio. The Washington Post says that a Bush rally at a country club turned into something of a therapy session, as the country club Republicans in attendance counseled the candidate on how to turn things around.
The problem is that it’s almost certainly too late for that. Bush has thrown everything he has into South Carolina. His brother has campaigned for him; he wooed Nikky Haley; he got Lindsey Graham’s endorsement; he produced back-to-back good debate performances in which he proved he could go toe-to-toe with his boogeyman, Donald Trump.
Yet, as far as I can tell, the best he has show for it is the rumor of an internal poll from his PAC that shows him in third place, one point ahead of Rubio, with half the support of Ted Cruz and less than half of Trump’s support. And this was before Haley endorsed Rubio.
Meanwhile, other polls show Bush well behind Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, battling John Kasich (hardly Mr. South Carolina) and maybe Ben Carson for fifth place. Fox News has one out today. It puts Trump in the lead with 32 percent support. He is followed by Cruz (19), Rubio (15), Bush and Carson (9), and Kasich (6).
If the final results resemble these numbers, or the RCP average (which flips Carson and Kasich but otherwise is about the same as the Fox News poll), Bush will be under intense pressure to leave the race. Nor, it seems to me, is he likely to resist the pressure.
What’s in it for Bush to remain in the race? Surely, he can’t relish the notion of a resounding loss to Trump in Florida, his home state.
What is the rationale for a candidate to continue running for president when he has failed to finish in the top three in the first three contests (assuming that’s the case in Florida), can’t clear 10 percent in the national polls, and (as Dan McLaughlin at NR points out) struggles to break even in his favorability rating among Republicans? There is none.
The deflated look that reporters say they detected from the candidate yesterday suggests that Jeb Bush understands this.