Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) plans to snub the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year, and won’t show up at all, Breitbart News has learned exclusively.
CPAC is hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU) in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. In 2016, the conference will be held right after Super Tuesday from March 2 until March 5.
That Rubio is skipping the pre-eminent annual conservative gathering of thousands of activists in a presidential election year is extraordinarily telling about the direction of his campaign as the entire Washington establishment aligns behind him in a last-ditch desperate bid to stop billionaire frontrunner Donald Trump. Both Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as Dr. Ben Carson, have previously confirmed their attendance at CPAC this year—and each has attended the gathering in the past several years. Rubio did, alongside his mentor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, appear at the 2015 CPAC.
The ACU said in a statement provided exclusively to Breitbart News:
Although, Marco Rubio has built a conservative record and has a high ACU rating, he and his campaign have made a rookie mistake. Today the Rubio campaign informed ACU’s chairman that their candidate is unwilling to make time to meet with activists and answer their questions at CPAC 2016. Sen. Rubio cannot have it both ways: he cannot hope to be the inspirational leader of conservatives and at the same time hide at the very moments when activists who comprise the heart and soul of the movement assemble and organize. For 43 years CPAC has been that critical moment, and in this year’s conference will be the biggest yet. Ronald Reagan came to CPAC 13 times; he launched his national political career from CPAC and our theme this year comes from President Reagan’s first public address after his 1980 election. That theme is ‘Our Time is Now.’ Reagan’s words ring even truer today than when Reagan first said them. If we do not carry the country in 2016 America will be a different nation. But if conservatives are not central to the effort we will fail before we even begin. We also appreciate those candidates and former candidates who have made CPAC 2016 a priority: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina (our former Foundation Chair.) They honor Reagan’s legacy and they honor the thousands of conservative activists who will spend significant resources to travel to CPAC to learn, be inspired, and eventually vote in our straw poll for the person they want to carry the Reagan torch.
Previously, when announcing the news exclusively with Breitbart News that Trump and Cruz–as well as Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO who dropped out of the presidential race already–were going to be speaking at CPAC 2016, ACU chairman Matt Schlapp noted how important this year is for conservative activists.
“This is the year of the conservative grassroots activist,” Schlapp said then. “We need to restore and protect our Constitutional freedoms and put a stop to Obama’s liberal run-away train. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina are each battling to represent conservatives in the nomination contest, and CPAC 2016 will allow activists to hear their vision.”
What’s perhaps most troubling for Rubio is that the senator has been pushing a theme as though he is the next in line to carry the mantle of Ronald Reagan’s legacy. But his decision to abdicate conservatism by skipping this conference comes as his record comes under close scrutiny from both Trump and Cruz, from federal immigration law enforcement officers, and from conservatives nationwide who wonder why he made the decision in 2013 to work with pro-amnesty interests in the Democratic Party, including the party’s liberal standard-bearer Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill. Rubio’s record in favor of Obamatrade—he was the critical 60th vote to secure passage of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that paves the way for easy passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Pacific rim trade deal—has also come under scrutiny as the senator and his team repeatedly refuse to provide any full accounting for when and if he actually read the text of the deal he voted to fast-track before he made that vote.
The group has consistently gathered in or around Washington, D.C., every year for decades—and the road to the White House for any Republican presidential candidate goes through CPAC. More than 11,000 people attended CPAC in 2015, according to ACU and CPAC communications director Ian Walters, but even more are expected to attend in 2016. Rubio’s decision to let down more than 10,000 of the party’s hardest core conservative activists at a time when he needs them most isn’t likely to play well, but again the bigger thing is CPAC’s focus on its roots of electing Reagan to the White House this year—and Rubio’s decision to abandon Reagan’s legacy in practice, while in campaign speeches attempt to capture that same legacy that he’s snubbing.
The theme of CPAC this year is based upon President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 CPAC address: “Our Time Is Now.”
“Our time is now. Our moment has arrived,” President Reagan told the conservative gathering in 1981. “We stand together shoulder to shoulder in the thickest of the fight.”
“Reagan’s sentiment reflects the urgency for grassroots activists to come together once again to work toward enacting conservative, limited-government solutions to today’s problems, all of which have been aggravated by Obama’s policies,” a CPAC release previously provided to Breitbart News reads. “This year’s theme builds upon last CPAC’s theme, ‘Conservative Action Starts Here,’ by urging the people we trained and activated at CPAC to help restore the ideas and ideals of our nation’s founding.”
Last year, Rubio praised the importance of the conservatives at CPAC. “I’m happy to be back at CPAC for the fifth time—the first time was back in 2010 when I was 50 points down in the polls and the only people who thought I could win my Senate race all lived in my home,” Rubio said to open his speech in 2015. “Four of them were under the age of eight at the time. But I’m glad to be back with you on the eve of the most important election in my lifetime. November of 2016 is not going to be a choice about who the next president is alone; the question before us in November 2016 is what kind of country are we going to be?”
Rubio’s decision to abandon the Reagan-focused CPAC comes as, in his recent concession speech to Donald Trump after Trump’s 10-point-landslide victory over him, Rubio attempted to claim Reagan’s mantle. Rubio said in his concession speech:
Tonight here in South Carolina, the message is pretty clear. This country is now ready for a new generation of conservatives to guide us into the 21st century. … 36 years ago, this nation faced a period of doubt. After a failed presidency, it felt like America was in decline. Our economy was stagnant, and the American Dream felt like it was slipping away. And then we elected a president that inspired us, a president who asked us to remember who we were, and who believed, as we do, that America’s greatest days always lie ahead. Ronald Reagan made us believe that it was morning in America again, and it was. Well, now the children of the Reagan Revolution are ready to assume the mantle of leadership. Now, those of us who grew up when it was morning in America, and Ronald Reagan was in the White House, are ready to do for our generation — are ready to do for the next generation what Ronald Reagan did for ours.
What’s more, this comes as questions begin emerging about whether Rubio can even win anywhere in the United States in the GOP nominating contests, even with the entire GOP establishment behind him. The Washington Post on Monday detailed how Rubio doesn’t really have much of a pathway to victory in any of the remaining 47 states that have yet to vote, after Rubio suffered stinging losses in Iowa’s caucuses and in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
“We have not set our March schedule yet,” Alex Conant, Rubio’s communications director, replied when asked why Rubio is skipping CPAC.