Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump will not attend the Conservative Political Action Conference, further deepening a rift among conservative activists over the billionaire businessman’s commitment to their movement.
The Washington Times learned the information just before noon Friday, and CPAC confirmed the news in a Twitter post minutes later.
“Very disappointed @realDonaldTrump has decided at the last minute to drop out of #CPAC — his choice sends a clear message to conservatives,” CPAC said.
The other remaining candidates are all slated to speak.
In a statement issued soon after the news broke, Mr. Trump’s campaign said he has scheduled a rally in Kansas so he will miss the conservative gathering.
“Mr. Trump would like to thank Matt Schlapp and all of the executives at CPAC and looks forward to returning to next year, hopefully as president of the United States,” the campaign said.
While he’s energized voters across the primaries and caucuses so far, it’s not clear how much support Mr. Trump has among the grassroots leaders gathered in suburban Washington for the three-day conference. Most of the attendees appear to be leaning toward his top rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Marco Rubio.
“I am not sure that he has that many supporters here anyway,” said Dan Miller, 44, of Illinois, who is supporting Mr. Cruz. “But it would show that he really doesn’t care about the conservative part of the party.”
Rick McLaughlin of Virginia, said it would be a “bad thing” for Mr. Trump to skip the event.
“I think it would be bad for him and probably bad for the party and the election,” Mr. McLaughlin, an undecided voter, said. “You need to show up, you need to show up and if he afraid that people are going to call him not conservative enough, he needs to face the music and answer the questions.”
“I think people would respect him for addressing it, but they are not going to respect him for ignoring the possibility,” the 56-year-old said.
Even with his decision to skip the conference, Mr. Trump will likely continue to dominate the conversation, with attendees debating whether he’s a conservative, whether he’s good for the Republican Party, and what steps should be taken to try to stop him from winning the GOP nomination.
Laura Luke, a housewife from Milford, Mich. said she voted for Mr. Cruz in the CPAC straw poll but is torn between him and Mr. Rubio ahead of Tuesday’s primary contest in her home state.
She said she’s “furious” with the GOP establishment but has mixed feelings about such an effort to coalesce anti-Trump forces.
“I wouldn’t mind stopping Trump, but the way they have done it, the way they are doing it…his numbers probably went up 10 points from what Romney did yesterday, honestly,” said Ms. Luke, 49.
“I think it would be a bad idea for them to try to manipulate the process in a way where it’s no longer the people’s choice here, and I think a lot of the people that are trying to put the brakes on are part of why we have Trump,” she said.