- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 20, 2016

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Surmounting new concerns about his temperament and his commitment to conservative values, Donald Trump won South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary Saturday, sealing himself as the frontrunner and proving he can win in moderate and conservative states alike.

But the race ended for Jeb Bush, who suspended his campaign after a third straight disappointing showing. It marked a stunning fall for the Bush dynasty, which has produced two previous presidents and which put its full might behind the former two-term Florida governor.

Mr. Bush said he accepted the rejection of voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and now South Carolina.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Trump had 33 percent of the vote. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were in a tight battle for second, with Mr. Rubio holding a lead of about 1,000 votes over Mr. Cruz — or about a tenth of a percent.

The primary set a record for turnout, marking the third contest this year where Republicans have shattered their previous turnout. The more than 725,000 voters marked a 20 percent surge over 2012.

Democrats, meanwhile, have fallen short of their 2008 record levels in all three of their primaries and caucuses, suggesting an energy deficit on their side.

VOTE NOW: Will Donald Trump win the GOP nomination?

Mr. Rubio said the race is now down to himself, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, and said the results — and the ouster of Mr. Bush — signaled the torch has passed to a new generation of Republicans who came of age under President Reagan.

“Tonight here in South Carolina, the message is pretty clear. The country is now ready for a new generation of conservatives to guide us into the 21st century,” he said. “Now the children of the Reagan revolution are ready to assume the mantle of leadership.”

Mr. Bush’s exit could benefit Mr. Rubio because the Florida senator had been the chief target for Mr. Bush and his allied political action committees.

Mr. Trump, though, said he expects to make a run at Bush supporters.

“As people drop out, I’m going to get a lot of those votes also,” he said.

Mr. Cruz said he’ll move forward by unifying conservatives around his bid, and said he’ll present an alternative to Mr. Trump, who he derides as inconsistent.

SEE ALSO: Results from the South Carolina Republican primary

“The screaming you hear now from across the Potomac is the Washington cartel in full terror that the conservative grass roots are rising up,” the Texas senator said. “If you are a conservative, this is where you belong because only one strong conservative is in a position to win this race.”

But the results belied Mr. Cruz’s optimism, with Mr. Trump not only winning the overall vote, but also claiming almost all of the delegates up for grabs to this summer’s nominating convention. South Carolina awards delegates proportionally based on results in each congressional district, and Mr. Trump won almost every county.

The billionaire businessman’s victory came despite a stunning feud with Pope Francis, and despite criticism over his salty language. Mr. Cruz in particular took his best shots yet at Mr. Trump, running ads highlighting his 1999 pro-choice stance and arguing Mr. Trump would be a risky person to make Supreme Court appointments.

Mr. Trump survived the onslaught, collected about a third of the vote, and reveled in the fight.

“It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s vicious. It’s beautiful,” he said at his victory party in Spartanburg.

With Mr. Bush out of the race, Mr. Kasich said there’s an opening for him — and his campaign pushed for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to follow Mr. Bush to the exit.

“For all the people watching, you fasten your seat belts please,” Mr. Kasich said at a party in Burlington, Vermont, where he was already campaigning ahead of the upcoming March battles.

Mr. Rubio, though, dismissed Mr. Kasich as a factor.

“After tonight this has become a three-person race, and we will win the nomination,” he vowed.

Whatever the contours, Mr. Trump continues to dominate the primary, with voters either loving him, severely disliking him, or going back and forth.

Following an early stumble in Iowa, the billionaire businessman has now reeled off victories in New Hampshire, known for socially moderate voters, and here, where religious conservatives control things. He now heads to libertarian-leaning Nevada, where polls show him far ahead. He predicted this week that if he won South Carolina, he would “run the table” on the rest of the races.

He continues to defy pundits who say his blunt comments, shaky political pedigree and apparent missteps on conservative positions would eventually doom him. Even a high-profile battle with Pope Francis, who said he was not a Christian if he wanted to build a border wall, failed to derail him.

Austin Hennessy, voting in North Charleston, said he’d been leaning toward Mr. Rubio at the beginning of the race but when Mr. Trump entered last summer his mind was made up.

“I’m tired of politicians. Politicians have never run a business, they’ve never supervised anybody, they’ve never been in leadership positions,” the military veteran said.

When CNN, which was airing at Mr. Trump’s victory party in Spartanburg, the room burst into cheers, and several people started crying out of joy.

Mr. Trump’s numbers might have been even higher if not for the last couple of rocky weeks, including a nasty

Mr. Trump had a rocky couple of weeks since the New Hampshire primary earlier this month, having gotten into a nasty spat with Mr. Bush over whether his brother, former President George W. Bush, should be held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

He also called Mr. Cruz “unstable” and threatened to sue the Texan over a Cruz campaign ad showing video of Mr. Trump in 1999 saying in an interview that he was pro-choice.

“I was a Trump supporter for the longest time, until the end here, with all the negative campaigning,” said Gary Adelhardt, voting with his wife and kindergarten-aged daughter. He pulled the lever for Mr. Carson.

The spats also hurt Mr. Cruz, however, with many voters saying they saw him being the instigator of a lot of the fights, both here and in Iowa, where Mr. Cruz apologized for his campaign having been involved in spreading rumors on caucus night that Mr. Carson was dropping out of the race.

“I feel like Cruz is slanting and twisting everything that comes out of his mouth. I don’t believe him,” said Dan Gover. “Then you have Trump - I like Trump, I think he’d be great for the economy, but you can’t have him up there.”

“Can you see him with the launch codes?” said his wife, Britt.

They were both Rubio supporters, brushing aside questions over his immigration stance by saying Mr. Trump has forced Mr. Rubio to stiffen his stance, and will have to follow through on building the Trump wall.

“I think Trump has brought that to the platform and now the wall will get built. It they get elected, the wall will be built. He’s locked everybody into it, I think,” Mr. Gover said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide

Sponsored Stories