On Saturday night, a man who was once considered a major presidential contender was forced to bow out after one of the most disappointing candidacies in modern memory ― Jeb Bush dropped out of the race after yet another drubbing in South Carolina, finally accepting the fact that billionaire businessman Donald Trump has effectively kneecapped his political career. He announced the suspension of his campaign in an emotional speech following the primary results being announced, and the only question left is, well, what now? What will Jeb Bush do next?
If you listened to Bush's speech to his assembled supporters, there's one thing that came through loud and clear: This looks like the end of the line for him as far as the political sphere goes. It's not that he doesn't conceivably have the time to mount another run someday ― he's only 63 years old, after all, and if Bernie Sanders' run on the Democratic side has taught us anything, it's that voters are willing to back an older-than-usual candidate if the time and the message is right.
But the simple fact is, it's hard to imagine that the time or message will ever be right again for Bush, at least not in his lifetime. Much less when you consider how colossally he struggled to negotiate the basic fact he'll never be able to escape ― the presidential legacy of his family, his brother's disastrous tenure in particular.
As for specific hints about what'll be next for the former Florida governor, Bush was pretty vague, although he did drop one line that even further suggests he'll be stepping away from the political process. After admitting to the crowd that he was ending his run, choking up a bit to massive applause, thanking South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham for his support and hugging his wife, Columba, Bush said the following:
I remain optimistic, and with the right kind of leadership that we all need to work to make sure happens, America's best days are ahead. With strong conservative leadership, Republicans can win the White House, and we can get back to being on the verge of having the greatest time to be alive. And that's what I honestly believe, and I know you do as well. I look forward to working you to make that dream come true. I will do it as a private citizen, just as you are. Thank you for the opportunity to run for the greatest office on the face of the Earth, I love you all, God bless you.
That's nothing if not straightforward, and from the sounds of it, Bush may be envisioning himself in a similar role to that of former Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who (even though he actually made it to the general) is a similarly restrained establishment voice, and has had his image fairly well rehabilitated within the party since his loss in 2012. Romney, for his part, posted a laudatory statement about Bush to Facebook after he dropped out of the race.
There's one thing you can be sure he won't be doing, however ― serving as Donald Trump's number two. After leaving the race, a reporter asked him if he'd consider being Trump's vice president, and the answer was instant: "no."