SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Donald Trump rolled to a win in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, as voters seething about Washington and politicians lifted the billionaire businessman to his second straight victory in the presidential race.
“When you win, it’s beautiful,” Trump told supporters in South Carolina, where he strengthened his unexpected claim on the Republican nomination.
The two freshmen senators — Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida — were battling for second place, which would give them bragging rights but might not get them any delegates in the march to the nomination.
Jeb Bush, who lagged behind, announced he was suspending his campaign, ending a bid that drew a staggering level of financial support from donors but failed to win over voters angry with Washington and leery of sending another member of the Bush family to the White House.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appears at a polling place Saturda in Greenville, S.C. AP photo
“I’m proud of the campaign that we’ve run to unify our country and to advocate conservative solutions,” a visibly emotional Bush said.
But, despite pinning his hopes on South Carolina, where the Bush name has maintained some clout, the former Florida governor was unable to break into the top three there.
Trump’s victory comes after a week in which he threatened to sue one rival, accused former President George W. Bush of lying about the Iraq war and even tussled with Pope Francis on immigration. His victory was another sign that the conventional rules of politics often don’t apply to the brash billionaire.
For Cruz, even a second-place finish in South Carolina would be a disappointment. The state was his first test of whether his expensive, sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation could overtake Trump in a Southern state, where the electorate is tailor-made for the conservative Texas senator.
Florida’s Rubio was hoping a top-tier finish in South Carolina could help establish him as the mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz. Many GOP leaders believe neither Trump nor Cruz could win in the general election.
Rubio scored the endorsements of several prominent South Carolina politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, and seemed to have rebounded after a dismal debate performance two weeks ago.
The outcome could also have serious implications for more establishment-friendly candidates who are hoping for strong finishes to stave off questions about their viability.
While Trump scored a decisive win in New Hampshire, the billionaire businessman’s second-place finish in Iowa to Cruz illustrated gaps in his less-than-robust ground operation, and questions remain about the extent to which he can translate leads in preference polls and large rally crowds into votes.
Trump’s win could answer some of those questions, adding momentum going into the collection of Southern states that will vote March 1, giving him the chance to build an even bigger lead in the delegate count that will determine the nomination.
Exit polls showed four in 10 voters angry about how Washington is working and more than half saying they felt betrayed by politicians in the Republican Party.
“I don’t like politicians,” said Jim Jaruszewicz, a 37-year-old radiology technician who voted for Trump. “I don’t trust politicians.”
The survey also found that three-quarters of voters supported a temporary ban on Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country — one of Trump’s policies.
Trump appeared confident as he’s traveled the state, holding rallies and town halls that have drawn thousands.
“I actually think I know your state now better than you do. I have been all over the place for the last four days. I know every blade of grass I’ve flown over from here to there,” he told a rally crowd in Sumter as he implored his supporters to get out and vote.
The election followed days of hostility between the campaigns and their allies at events and in television ads, automatic calls and mailers that have been flooding voters’ mailboxes.
Trump added to the drama, spending the week threatening to sue Cruz, accusing former President George W. Bush of lying and sparring with Pope Francis over immigration.
At his final election-eve rally Friday night in North Charleston, Trump told the widely discredited story of Gen. John Pershing, who was said to have halted Muslim attacks in the Philippines in the early 1900s by shooting the rebels with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.
Bush hoped his deep family ties to South Carolina — his brother and father each won two primaries here — would be a lifeline for his struggling campaign.
Also in the mix was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who had low expectations in South Carolina. He was looking toward more moderate states that vote later in March. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had a small but loyal cadre of followers.