Moments after former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg told supporters he's ending his presidential campaign Sunday, President Trump said it reflected the growing pressure among more moderate Democrats to consolidate in order to blunt the rise of progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Trump tweeted: "Pete Buttigieg is OUT. All of his SuperTuesday votes will to Sleepy Joe Biden. Great timing. This is the REAL beginning of the Dems taking Bernie out of play - NO NOMINATION, AGAIN!"
Buttigieg previously had said Sanders was too liberal to be elected.
His exit likely will harm front-runner Sanders by providing a coalescing boost to more moderate candidates, as Buttigieg had gone on the offensive against the Vermont senator and sought to appeal to the centrist base of the party.
With 54 delegates at stake in South Carolina, the former vice president picked up 35 to Sanders’ 13, according to The Associated Press' delegate count. Six delegates remained to be allocated pending final vote totals.
Heading into key Super Tuesday contests, Sanders has led the overall race for delegates with 58 while Biden had 50. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had 8 and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., had 7. It takes 1,991 delegates to win.
Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate to seriously contend for the presidency, tried to make the case that his party thrived when it embraced candidates who offered generational change.
But, the 38-year-old Afghanistan war veteran ended up being more successful at winning older voters while Sanders, 78, captured the energy of younger voters.
He called South Bend, a city of more than 100,000 people a few miles south of the Michigan line, "badly run" under Buttigieg, while the Hoosier State on the whole had "the best year they've ever had" in 2019.
Last year, the president, known for bullying schoolyard nicknames for his political rivals, compared Buttigieg to the longtime mascot for Mad magazine.
“Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States,” the president said, referring to the decades-old Mad character.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.