Jeb Bush was convinced his presidential campaign would ignite in South Carolina.

He thought he would do well in New Hampshire - but the move to the South would be where it would all happen.

He even, bravely, told reporters back in September "I'm going to win South Carolina. Take that to the bank".

This was Bush country.

Bitter exchanges mark Republican debate in South Carolina

He brought his mother to campaign for him, a women America adores.

He brought in his brother, the last Republican President George W Bush who actually won in South Carolina, beating an insurgent "outsider" John McCain, back in 2000.

He courted senior figures in the party establishment in the state. He won the endorsement of Senator Lindsey Graham, a former presidential contender himself.

He had campaigned for the very popular governor, Nikki Haley, and helped her draw up her education plan.

But there were signs not all was well.

A Bush-supporting Political Action Committee announced during the week it was pulling advertising it had pre-booked on television for Super Tuesday on March 1; the day when several states hold their nomination contest.

And then Governor Haley spurned the overtures from his team and threw her backing behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Bush continued to campaign with dignity, pushing his ideas, convinced he could still win.

But the former Florida governor found that popularity was not transferable. And as the results began to trickle in on Saturday night, he knew his race was run.

He went in front of the camera and outlined again why he thought he would make a good president. But he added he knew the voters didn't agree.


READ MORE: Trump wins in South Carolina as Clinton takes Nevada


And so he said he was suspending his campaign.

A few people cried "No". Bush could only reply "Yeah, Yeah". And for a moment, it looked as if he realised he would not be following his father and brother into the Oval Office. That brought a pause, a deep breath and almost a tear.

As an exit, it was dignified, said many.

But if there was one big loser in South Carolina, there were two winners. First there is, almost inevitably in this election cycle, Donald Trump.

GOP candidates battle for survival in South Carolina

The billionaire businessman added the state to his victory in New Hampshire, in the knowledge the last three Republicans to win both went on to secure the nomination.

In the last week, he has argued with Pope Francis over religion, called George W Bush a "liar" and praised Planned Parenthood, a women's health organisation which is despised by many Republicans because it offers abortion advice. It did nothing to hit his poll numbers.

From a campaign that was regarded as a joke, even a publicity stunt when it launched, the New Yorker is now the frontrunner.

He moves on from here, strengthened, emboldened and more bullish than ever. His campaign believes if he can win here, there is nowhere in this country where his brash brand of populism won't play and win.

And if there is to be a challenge from the establishment, it now seems Marco Rubio will be its standard bearer.

From major disappointment in New Hampshire, sealed with a dreadful debate performance, the Florida senator took a surprising second place here, pipping Ted Cruz who must has thought he had a lock on that position.

While others remained in the race, the anti-Trump vote was split. Now Rubio will be the firewall against the businessman securing the nomination, although Ohio Governor John Kasich will still hope it can be him.

The problem Rubio faces is he can't keep coming in third or second. At some point he has to start winning states, and at the moment there is no clear route for that to happen.

But he will be hoping the Republican establishment will help him narrow the field, propelling him past Cruz and Trump.

Twenty four hours or so ago I wrote how South Carolina was an important stopping point; that it would narrow the field and focus the race.

Not so long ago there were 17 Republicans who wanted to be president. Realistically, now there are four. And Jeb Bush isn't one of them.

Source: Al Jazeera