Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will not be attending this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of conservative leaders and their followers that GOP presidential contenders typically use as a springboard for the next election cycle.
Instead of attending the conference, which will take place between Wednesday and Saturday of this week in Washington D.C., sources familiar with DeSantis’s plans say he will promote his book in his home state and attend two political fundraising dinners in Texas. He will also stop in California.
DeSantis, who has spoken at CPAC as recently as last year, was never scheduled to speak at this year’s conference. Still, skipping the event is a political gamble — a test of whether his rising popularity over the past year can endure the snubbing of one of the most popular right-wing events in the country.
The Florida governor — who has made a name for himself in the Republican Party through attacking LGBTQ youth and restricting educators from teaching about Black history — has not yet formally announced a presidential run for 2024, but is expected to do so in the next year. His main opponent in the GOP primaries, former President Donald Trump, is scheduled to speak at CPAC, as is the only other major Republican candidate so far, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.
Several other prominent Republicans will not be attending the conference, including Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president and a likely Republican candidate for president in 2024. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will also be skipping CPAC.
A person familiar with Pence’s decision to skip the conference told NBC News that there has been “a distance between the two entities for a few years now.” Pence’s values “no longer align” with those espoused at the conference, that person claimed.
Some Republicans may be skipping this year’s event to avoid the appearance of endorsing CPAC’s chair, Matt Schlapp, who is embroiled in a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former staffer for former Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker. That individual claims that Schalpp fondled them without their consent in October of last year.
But there may be other reasons that well-known Republicans are skipping CPAC this year.
As NBC News has pointed out, the conference has essentially been “the Trump show” in recent years. Pence, McDaniel, McCarthy, McConnell and DeSantis have all been on the receiving end of attacks from Trump or his loyalists.
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