10 key figures who will — and won’t — be at CPAC

Presidential hopefuls and Republican firebrands aren’t the only names generating buzz ahead of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Perhaps just as notable are those who are skipping the event altogether.  

While GOP presidential candidates former President Trump and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley will be attending the four-day event, others are noticeably missing from the announced speaker lineup, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). 

The conference, which begins on Wednesday and will be held in National Harbor, Md., precedes what’s expected to be a crowded Republican presidential primary and comes amid infighting over the direction of the GOP. 

Here are 10 key figures who will be — and won’t be — at CPAC: 

Who will be attending: 

Former President Trump 

Former President Trump will be speaking at CPAC at a time when he remains the formidable Republican to beat in a GOP presidential primary. A Fox News poll released on Sunday found Trump receiving 43 percent support while DeSantis, who’s widely speculated to be gearing up for a White House run, received 28 percent, among a list of hypothetical primary contenders.  

Many of CPAC’s speakers and attendees are also staunch supporters or allies of the former president, including CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp; House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). 

Trump is expected to deliver the last speech on Saturday evening. 

With Desantis’ absence, Trump will have more of the 2024 spotlight for himself. The former president will still have to compete for attention against Haley, the other high-profile GOP presidential candidate who announced her run last month and is attending CPAC. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley 

Haley’s CPAC appearance will offer the Republican presidential candidate a key opportunity to get in front of some of the party’s most important movers and shakers since announcing her candidacy in mid-February. And while CPAC will be a more Trump-favorable venue, that doesn’t mean that Republicans aren’t shopping for another presidential nominee. 

Haley has sought to present herself as a new face for the Republican party, saying in her campaign launch ad, “it’s time for a new generation of leadership.”  

She’s also referenced her gender, alluding to the fact that she could make history as the first woman — as well as the first candidate of color — to become the GOP’s presidential nominee. 

Haley is expected to make remarks on Friday afternoon. 

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 

Though other widely speculated presidential candidates like DeSantis, former Vice President Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) are not among CPAC’s announced speakers, Pompeo will be delivering remarks on Thursday evening. 

In the days after Republicans’ disappointing November midterms, which saw many of Trump’s endorsees struggle to cross the finish line, Pompeo offered several jabs at the former president.  

Responding to Trump’s remarks made during his presidential announcement in which he portrayed himself as a “victim,” Pompeo tweeted in November: “We need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood.” 

Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake 

Lake garnered much media attention during the November midterms as she went head-to-head with Democrat Katie Hobbs in the Arizona gubernatorial race. Lake, who lost her election but has refused to concede, has been seen as a Trump acolyte who’s endorsed the former president’s baseless claims about the 2020 election. 

There are murmurs that Lake is considering a Senate run, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I-Ariz.) seat up in 2024. There’s also been speculation that she might be considered as a vice presidential pick. She held a rally in Arizona in late January and has made stops in Iowa, an early presidential primary state where she grew up and attended college.  

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) 

Scott is also slated to deliver remarks on Thursday, and his presence at CPAC comes several months after a failed bid to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for Senate GOP leader.  

The two were at loggerheads during the November midterms as Scott, who served as the chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm last cycle, defended the quality of the party’s Senate candidates while McConnell hedged his bets that the Senate may be less likely to flip, citing candidate quality. 

Scott was also put on defense recently over a 12-point plan he released last year in which one of the points advocated to sunset all federal programs, which include Social Security and Medicare, after five years. McConnell dinged the Florida Republican over the proposal, calling it “the Scott plan […] not a Republican plan.”  

Who won’t be back CPAC:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis  

Florida’s governor, who won widespread praise from Republicans following his reelection by an impressive 19-point margin, is skipping CPAC and is instead making visits to Florida, Texas and the Club for Growth donor retreat. 

But that doesn’t mean he’s missing out on the spotlight among Republicans and media alike. DeSantis has regularly been making headlines in recent weeks, including over signing legislation that eliminates Disney’s self-governing status and over his administration’s move to reject an Advanced Placement African American studies course. 

DeSantis, who has not yet announced a formal bid for the White House, is expected to make an announcement after Florida’s state legislature session wraps up in the spring.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

McConnell is also not among the list of announced speakers at CPAC, though it may be unsurprising given that the Senate GOP leader has been a Trump critic and many of CPAC’s attendees are supportive of the former president. 

McConnell drew Trump’s ire for criticizing the former president in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, and he notably hedged his party’s bets over taking back the Senate. Many of the Senate Republicans running last cycle were backed by Trump, though some of them lost in their general elections.  

Former Vice President Pence 

Pence is also reportedly not attending CPAC this week, ABC News reported, citing multiple sources. He didn’t attend the conference in 2021 or 2022, either.  

Like DeSantis, Pence will also be attending Club for Growth’s donor retreat, which spans from Thursday to Sunday in Palm Beach, Fla. Pence and DeSantis’ absences raise the question whether Republican presidential candidates can chart their own paths without the platform or visits of key groups and institutions like CPAC. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

McCarthy is not on the list of announced speakers at CPAC, though the House Speaker didn’t attend last year’s event either. The conference comes close to two months since McCarthy prevailed in the House Speakership vote as Republicans attempted to vote on and elect the California Republican for the gavel position. 

The Speakership vote underscored lingering divisions within the House GOP, though some of McCarthy’s initial detractors have since gained top committee assignments like CPAC attendees Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who sits on the House Steering Committee, and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who serves on the House Homeland Security and the Oversight and Reform committees. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

The South Carolina Republican is also a widely speculated 2024 GOP presidential candidate following news last month that he was launching a listening tour, with stops in early presidential primary states like South Carolina and Iowa.  

Scott is also slated to attend Club for Growth’s donor retreat — one that does not include Trump on its list of featured speakers. A possible Scott presidential candidacy would make him the second South Carolinian to enter the race, though he said in a recent interview, “I bet there’s room for three or four. Certainly room for two.” 

Tags CPAC Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Mike Pence Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Nikki Haley Rick Scott Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis Tim Scott Tim Scott

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