"Tonight I talked to my brother and congratulated him on his campaign for the Presidency," the 43rd president said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "I told Jeb how proud I am of him and his staff for running a campaign that looked to the future, presented serious policy proposals, and elevated the tone of the race. "
The former governor of Florida announced plans to exit the race after he finished a disappointing fourth in the South Carolina Republican primary.
Jeb's voice broke Saturday when he announced his decision to suspend his campaign, telling supporters in South Carolina that "I'm proud of the campaign that we've run to unify our country ... but the people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision."
Donald Trump triumphed at the polls, even after George W. campaigned for his brother in the southern state that has historically been generous to the Bush family.
Although George W. did not mention Trump by name in his comments, the reference to the real estate mogul is clear, alluding to his abrasive style that has shaken the Republican establishment.
"Jeb's decision to suspend his campaign reflects his selfless character and patriotism," he said. "I was moved by Jeb's concession speech. Laura and I are proud of Jeb and Columba for the character and class they brought to this important campaign."
Novelist Christopher Buckley, the former head speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, added that it was a "sad day in Bushville."
"Jeb goes out head held high, having taken the high road, unlike – ahem – some others in this GOP herd," Buckley said in a statement to PEOPLE. "His innate decency, inherited in equal parts from his mother and father, was always on display, but, sad to say, was not an asset in this noisy, clamorous and often downright ugly contest.
"Donald Trump's rendez-vous with reality is approaching," he continued. "His reckoning awaits him. He would do well to take his leave of the national stage with an iota the grace with which Jeb has taken his."
Reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL and CAITLIN KEATING