GOP stars skip annual CPAC conference as organizer faces sex assault allegations
Former President Donald Trump will be in attendance, but his main rival for the Republican nomination Ron DeSantis has more important matters elsewhere.
Pillow salesman and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell will be in attendance, but not Charlie Kirk, one of the most high-profile conservative activists.
And Vivek Ramaswamy will run his newly minted campaign for the right-wing believers, while Nikki Haley, the only other declared 2024 runner, will stay away.
The Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off Thursday, with the organizer facing allegations of sexual assault and new questions about whether the collection of hardline firebrands is still as relevant as it was when Trump was in office.
Trump supporters don’t care. They are delighted that his rivals have given up the podium.
Conservative radio host John Fredericks said they knew they would be crushed in the event’s straw poll, which asks attendees who they want as a Republican nominee.
“Trump’s populist movement has hijacked CPAC-lock, stock and barrel,” he said.
The Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off Thursday outside Washington, D.C. Organizer Matt Schlapp has come under fire on several fronts
Former President Donald Trump will speak at the event on Saturday. But his main rival for the Republican nomination Ron DeSantis has decided to stay away
It’s their chance to say that Trump remains king of the scene.
The event returns to National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., for the first time since COVID banned it from Florida, making it easier for the state capital’s politicians to attend.
But Fox News is dropping its sponsorship and some regular speakers have opted to take a year off as the election cycle prepares for a big 2024.
Republican strategist John Feehery said CPAC had always been “quirky,” representing the movement’s conservatives rather than the establishment.
“The best thing about CPAC is when a future president comes to speak and you have other future presidents there and other people vying for the attention of the activists,” he said.
“And you know, if that’s not part of it, then there’s really no point.”
The president of the event, Matt Schlapp, has his own problems. He has been charged with a lawsuit accusing him of stroking a male aide to then Georgia senate candidate Herschel Walker in October
He used a recent lawsuit to deny a sexual battery allegation.
And in an interview with the conservative Washington examinerhe said his position on the right side of politics seemed to make him fair game for liberal journalists
Kari Lake, the news anchor-turned-Arizona gubernatorial candidate who refused to concede after losing last year, is the star speaker at Friday night’s gala dinner
MyPillow founder Mike Lindell will also be in attendance. Critics say the lineup relies too heavily on people who rose to prominence as Trump’s acolytes
Fake journalists who push this left-wing agenda and lie, and am I the victim of that?
“These media outlets will take on any attack and deal with it if they can destroy a Republican or a Trump supporter or conservative,” he said.
“We have that in this country.”
He dismissed criticism that some stars stayed away or that the agenda was too Trump-centric, saying the former president was still the biggest force in the party.
The convention, he added, would draw attention to recent clashes over social policy and allegations that the media colluded with the left to silence debate.
“Our goal at CPAC was to highlight these things rather than hide them because they’re uncomfortable, oh my god they’re uncomfortable,” he said.
“It’s uncomfortable when you are called such things. But the fact is, what are your actions and where is your heart?’
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another figure weighing in on a run for the White House, will appear, as will Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida’s Rick Scott.
Nikki Haley is not attending, even though CPAC has often been seen as a prime opportunity for those seeking the Republican nomination. Neither does Sean Hannity
Activists will also hear from Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former president, whose supporters stormed parliament in January to contest his election loss.
But many of the speakers come from the party’s hardline election deniers, such as Lindell, who has promoted conspiracy theories, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Kari Lake, the newscaster turned Arizona gubernatorial candidate who refused to concede after last year’s defeat, is the star speaker at Friday night’s gala dinner.
And activists will also hear from Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former president, whose supporters stormed parliament in January as they contested his election loss.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, said it remained a vital platform.
“CPAC is the largest mass gathering of conservative leaders, activists and media outlets until debates begin later this year, and President Trump is well positioned to dominate the conference and its immense coverage,” he said.
“There are simply no comparable events or opportunities in the next six months, which gives President Trump a unique advantage.”
Last year, Fox News’ streaming division was a major sponsor. But it won’t return, and anchors like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity will be absent.
A conservative media insider saw a fourfold problem for CPAC that left partners, speakers and exhibitors simmering not to return: 2023 is a low year with no elections; there is a rift in the conservative landscape as DeSantis eats Trump’s support; Schlapp faces serious allegations; and there’s a long-held feeling that CPAC represents a quasi-friendly extortion operation, where you have to pay to play, and speaker slots can be bid on.