The organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, are attempting to shame Republican presidential candidate [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore], accusing him of “a rookie mistake” and suggesting the Florida senator won’t make this year’s event.
But a Rubio campaign aide, responding to the organizers statement, suggested to The Daily Caller that it’s still possible the senator will attend the gathering, saying: “Our March schedule is still TBD.”
The American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, released a statement saying “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.” ACU’s response was first reported by Breitbart News.
“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 compose the heart and soul of the movement assemble and organize,” the organization said in its statement. “For 43 years CPAC has been that critical moment, and in this year’s conference will be the biggest yet.”
Rubio has spoken at previous CPACs.
In their statement, CPAC said: “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.”
There is a Republican presidential debate during CPAC on March 3 in Detroit. But other candidates are scheduled to make it.
The organization wrote that they “appreciate those candidates and former candidates who have made CPAC 2016 a priority: Donald Trump, [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and Ben Carson, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina.”
“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 organization said.
CPAC is set for March 2-5 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington D.C. The confab usually brings thousands of activists and students together to listen to conservative and Republican speakers, including presidential candidates.
UPDATE: The Daily Caller spoke on Tuesday afternoon with ACU chairman Matt Schlapp after the Rubio campaign released emails to RedState between Schlapp and a campaign staffer. The Rubio campaign is arguing the emails show they didn’t turn CPAC down; CPAC says they consider the Rubio campaign response to be just that.
Schlapp says the ACU has been trying to confirm Rubio since July. He says he told Rubio’s campaign last week he needed to know then if Rubio could make it so they could put together the schedule.
Rubio’s campaign told Schlapp on Tuesday, according to the emails the campaign gave to RedState, that “we want to do it but can’t commit to a specific date or time at this point.” The aide also told Schalpp that if he has to “take that as a no answer, we understand, but it’s not our intent.”
Schlapp took that as a no. In an email back to the Rubio campaign, he wrote: “Good to get the no but good spin.”
Speaking to TheDC, Schlapp said: “I was very clear to them last week in an email — which I have not released because I guess I’m more polite — that we needed to know then. And we let that fly because we’ve tried to do everything we can to work for them. And I made it very clear this morning that if they couldn’t give me a firm commitment,” CPAC would consider Rubio a no.
He provided a copy of a July 20 letter from the ACU to Rubio showing the initial invitation. While other campaigns have committed for the event, Rubio’s is the only that hasn’t.
“When you’re putting on a major conference, which is the biggest conservative conference of the year, which is the third most covered political event of the calendar year, you have to have a schedule,” he said. “And you have to put that schedule down. And since July 20 of last year, we have been going back and forth with the campaign to try to get them to commit.”
Schlapp said he took the Rubio’s unwillingness to commit as a sign. “I’ve asked a lot of girls out on a dates over the years. And there’s been a lot of different excuses. ‘I have to wash my hair.’ ‘I have to walk my dog.’ ‘My grandmother wants me to take her to the movies.’ By about the 8th one of those, I realized it was a no…Basically, they’re telling us no.”
But Schlapp said if Rubio still wanted to speak at CPAC, there might still be room, if his campaign acted quickly.
“I would right at this moment, if they called me now and said, ‘look there was a confusion over this, and Marco wants to address the activists on the main stage,’ I’d still try to make it work,” he said. “But the time is running short. And I explained it to them this morning we’re well passed the deadline.”