As expected, Steve Forbes picked up the rest of his money and went home Thursday, abandoning his second run for the presidency. The billionaire publisher admitted that his unexpectedly weak showing in the Delaware Republican primary Tuesday prompted him to quit the race. In 1996, Forbes won that state's primary.
In his farewell speech, Steve Forbes continued to flog the issues that got him nowhere this year, touting his flat tax and his plan to abolish the IRS. But the biggest cheers from his small but enthusiastic group of supporters came after Forbes declared his support for a pro-life amendment to the Constitution.
Forbes declined to throw his official support behind any of the remaining candidates for the time being, calling endorsements a "debased currency" this election cycle. Of the seven Republican dropouts to date, five have endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush, with only Forbes and the recently departed Gary Bauer stating no preference. The publishing mogul also quashed speculation that he would take a shot at the New Jersey Senate seat that Sen. Frank Lautenberg is leaving after this term. "I've done enough running for this year," he said.
Forbes accepted his defeat with "malice towards none and charity for all," sparing his rivals the pointed quips that made him unpopular with Republican front-runners. In fact, he singled out Alan Keyes for praise for the strong anti-abortion views they shared, and demurred when a provocateur invited him to slam John McCain for encouraging "class warfare." He gave limited praise to Bush's tax plan, saying that although it is too cautious, it is nonetheless a tribute to his own ideas.
Forbes hasn't always been so kind to his rivals. Earlier in the campaign, Forbes denounced Bush's tax plan as weak, and ran ads attacking Bush for supposedly breaking a "no new taxes" pledge as governor. Forbes even went for the family jewels in a Michigan debate. In a heated exchange, Forbes lectured Bush, saying, "You're not going to win the White House by making pledges that are then broken. We've been through that before, particularly on taxes," a thinly veiled allusion to former President Bush's infamous "read my lips" slogan.
Forbes earned his reputation as a brawler during the 1996 race, when many of his fellow Republicans credit him with spending Bob Dole into the poorhouse, leaving the eventual nominee an easy target for the Clinton machine. Forbes spent $37.4 million on that race; according to official filings as of Dec. 31, he spent an additional $28.7 this time around. (The final total will, of course, be higher.)
But, even in defeat, Forbes said it was worth it. Joining him at the gallows were his wife, two teary-eyed daughters, campaign advisor Ken Blackwell and Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, a rare congressional Republican not already in the Bush camp. Around the ballroom, several young campaign volunteers choked up, wiping away tears as they contemplated life without their candidate. As Forbes wrapped up his remarks, they continued to shout their support, chanting, "We believe in Steve! We believe in Steve!"
Too bad no one else did.