American Conservative Union (ACU) chairman Matt Schlapp, the head of the organization that hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), lambasted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Breitbart News Daily on Wednesday for refusing to attend CPAC this year.
Rubio’s decision to skip the event, reported first by Breitbart News on Tuesday, comes as the entire Washington establishment lines up behind his campaign in a last ditch effort to stop billionaire Donald Trump. Rubio’s pitch to be the anti-Trump is that he can unite the GOP heading into a general election, but in his Wednesday morning interview on Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel with Stephen K. Bannon, Schlapp said that Rubio’s move to shun conservatives at CPAC raises questions about whether he actually could unite Republicans.
“For 43 years, those who want to lead the charge for conservatism—especially those who want to be our nominee—have come to CPAC,” Schlapp told Bannon.
And I’ve had reporters and activists from across the country been tweeting, been emailing me saying “hey, how come you haven’t announced Marco Rubio? How come you haven’t announced Marco Rubio?” Well, look, what all tumbled out on the pages of Breitbart and other conservative publications yesterday was that for seven months I’ve been trying really hard to get Marco’s team to realize and to try to educate them as to why coming to CPAC is important, especially when you think you are that nominee that can unite us all. After seven months of going back and forth, back and forth, we almost announced it right before New Hampshire, but then they pulled it back. They came at us and said “we’d like to be there on Wednesday morning” but unfortunately the conference starts in earnest on Thursday morning. We had to explain that to them. So all these backs and forths and fits and starts, their answer yesterday morning was not either yes or no, but was something in between which was “we’re going to tell you no, but we’re hoping something might change in the future that will allow us to be there. At this moment we don’t know, we’ll keep you posted.” Now I got to tell you, with a week to go, after seven months, I felt like it was important for me to make a statement that they were telling me no without using no and the time for that type of talk with politicians is over. They need to tell us what they think. It’s an important character trait.
Schlapp holds out hope that Rubio will change his mind, and re-adjust his schedule to make it to the event. But thus far, Rubio has been uninterested in making CPAC and speaking to conservatives a priority. But if Rubio doesn’t change his mind, Schlapp added, the ACU will be certain to make sure everyone voting in subsequent primaries knows that Rubio didn’t show up when it matters.
“I’m going to believe this: I’m going to believe that somewhere in a chaotic presidential campaign that not all the cylinders were firing,” Schlapp said.
And I’m going to believe that maybe they will reconsider today. As I told people at the end of the day yesterday, I believe in happy endings and I believe in turning the other cheek. And even though it’s been a seven-month-long process I’d like to forget, if they called me this morning and said “hey guess what? We’re going to make time for the activists,” I’ll make time for them in the schedule because I think it’s better for our movement to hear from everybody. Look, if I had Marco Rubio’s God-given communication talent I would take that show on the road anywhere I get an invite because he’s got the ability to talk to people. It’s not like me, where I’d have to struggle with that. He’s a gifted communicator. He ought to go for it, and he ought to change his mind. But if he doesn’t, we’re going to be clear about what happens here and we’re not going to cover for anybody.
Schlapp added that even Ohio Gov. John Kasich sees the importance of CPAC in uniting Republicans heading into a general election. Kasich, Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—all of the other remaining GOP presidential candidates—will be attending CPAC this year. Rubio is the only Republican candidate who at this time will not be attending.
If every other presidential can see the importance of showing up when conservatives assemble, especially at the crown jewel of that which is CPAC, if every other presidential candidate can figure that out including John Kasich, I think you have to ask that question—whether or not he gets how important this is. I’m hoping he is going to get that and look, I think he has a chance to make his pitch. But I do think there’s something about 2016 that is different from what we saw in the last couple of cycles. People want to get the straight talk from these politicians and they don’t want to get all the spin and all the jargon and I think candidates that get that—it’s not about endorsements. It’s not about having all these senators and governors stand behind you, it’s about the man. It’s about the person who wants to lead the country—and will they look the American people in the eye and tell them the good news and the bad news. That’s why Hillary Clinton is such a dreadfully horrible candidate when liberals are trying to find a nominee, and that’s why candidates in my party—the Republican Party—who try to play the old game, it just doesn’t work.