You know spring’s approaching when the annual “Is X uninvited to/refusing to attend CPAC?” melodrama rolls around. The American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, says Rubio will be a no-show next week:
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 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.
We didn’t inform anyone of anything, says Team Rubio. CPAC invited us and we told them we’re still working out our schedule for March, which includes a national Republican debate on the second day of the conference and an intensive two weeks of campaigning before Florida votes on March 15th:
— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) February 23, 2016
"If they have to take that as a no answer, we understand, but it’s not our intent” Team Rubio to ACU – pic.twitter.com/zBg7nsuKBD
— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) February 23, 2016
CPAC starts on Wednesday, March 2nd, the day after Trump’s presumptive romp through the SEC primary, which will all but cinch the nomination for him. The modern conservative movement will be a smoking crater that day yet somehow we’re supposed to care who does and doesn’t show up at the annual pageant it holds to pretend like it still has some determining influence over the direction of the GOP. Whatever. If I were Rubio, I’d show up and read CPAC its obituary. Or, since that’s inconvenient for him given that he’ll still technically be viable as nominee until March 15th, Cruz could show up and do it. He’ll be done on March 2nd assuming that he performs as poorly with evangelicals vis-a-vis Trump across the wider south as he did in South Carolina. He could take the stage and reaffirm his personal commitment to Reaganism even if a chunk of the party no longer believes in it, and even if CPAC feels obliged for its own self-interested reasons to give Trump a platform. That’s what anti-Trumpers should be annoyed about here. Not that Rubio’s going to pass on the event — he won’t, as he can’t afford to alienate even one single additional undecided voter in light of how narrow his path to the nomination is — but that, like Fox News and other righty media outlets, CPAC has spent years mainstreaming Trump as “conservative” by granting him a platform.
The real fun at CPAC will come next year when Trumpism is either the party’s new governing “ideology” or merely a major constituency that needs to be pandered to. Which conservative rock stars will shift, a la Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, in that direction and which will double down on traditional conservatism? Can CPAC survive with a tent so big that “conservatism” is rendered essentially meaningless? We’ll find out!