**SEE UPDATE BELOW**
Every year around this time, there's a mad rush to confirm who will be attending and who will be skipping the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in DC. It's billed as the largest annual gathering of conservatives and generally speaking, if you're serious about running for president, you go.
It's not because you'll attract a bunch of new voters or switch a bunch of undecided folks. It's because among the throngs of political tourists, there are thousands of political professionals. Bloggers, journalists, vloggers, video makers, organization heads, activists, and on and on. The biggest speeches are often carried on the major networks, all of it is covered on C-Span, and all those writers I mentioned are pouring out every detail all over the web and on social media in the hopes of getting the most eyeballs possible.
It's kind of a no-brainer that in a primary this hotly contested, where the frontrunner is practically an enemy of the state to many conservatives, where the 2nd & 3rd place spots keep flipping back and forth, that Marco Rubio should attend.
No, he won't gain new voters at the conference. He won't getting a standing ovation that will turn the tide of the election. Given the type of Trump fans we've seen online, he could very well end up shouting down white supremacists from the stage.
But he still needs to go.
He can't afford to have news of him skipping two major gatherings of conservatives in a row, especially when so many weren't sure how to feel about the first one which I reported on last week. He seemed to have genuine scheduling difficulties that caused him to miss the Conservative Review gathering in South Carolina, but to turn around a few days later and have reports that he's also skipping CPAC? It doesn't look good.
Fair or not the optics are that he is scared to talk to conservatives.
The source of the news that Senator Rubio would not be attending is not one that I often look to for reliability anymore. So I reached out to the ACU (the governing board for CPAC) to confirm the statement that Breitbart reporter Matt Boyle had quoted.
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.
The ACU did confirm the legitimacy of the quote.
— The ACU (@ACUConservative) February 23, 2016
So case closed? Rubio is making a huge error? Not so fast. Alex Conant, Director of Communications for the Rubio campaign, told RedState that the campaign never indicated it would not come to CPAC, only that they could not confirm Rubio's schedule YET. Which is a pretty important distinction which is missing from Boyle's report. In light of this, I reached out to the ACU via DM on twitter for clarification, asking if Rubio's camp had said they would not be attending or if they had simply said they could not yet confirm. However, on twitter at least, they are defending their quote in a somewhat ambiguous way.
If not true, then what time did they give us? They should furnish the emails that says what time they're coming. https://t.co/S81IHJ8nqE
— The ACU (@ACUConservative) February 23, 2016
"We can't give you a specific time yet" is not the same as "we aren't coming."
If the ACU has emails indicating that Rubio said they aren't coming at all - as they led Breitbart to believe - they should release those emails
As of this writing the ACU has not responded to my request for clarification.
I spoke with Matt Schlapp of the ACU and he has a bit of a different perspective on the back and forth with the Rubio campaign. According to Schlapp, Rubio has been avoiding saying yes or not for about 7 months, and that in the emails Leon provided, Schlapp was trying to get Rubio to understand that the time for a decision is here.
Schlapp says that Rubio is the only candidate to not confirm his attendance and that the organization had reached a point where they needed to know one way or another.
In Schlapp's words "I'm a big boy. If the answer is no, the answer is no. I can take it."
As evidence of how long they have been trying to get confirmation from Rubio, the ACU sent me a copy of the original request to have him speak at the conference, dated July 20th, 2015 [see below].
For some this will not settle the question of whether or not it was fair to characterize Rubio's lack of final confirmation as a snub of the conference, however, Mr. Schlapp seemed much more focused on a positive resolution than addressing whether or not the two camps agreed on how to characterize the outcome of the email exchange Leon posted.
When asked if there was still time for Mr. Rubio to attend, Schlapp said that the ACU is hoping for a positive outcome and has no reason to believe that one can't be reached prior to the finalization of the event calendar. Eventually, he reiterates, it will be too late, but he's hopeful it can be worked out.