The news that Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump would skip his scheduled appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington tomorrow was met with a combination of disappointment, derision, and puzzlement by attendees at the annual conservative gathering on Friday.
“It’s kind of sad, because it’s like, this is where the conservatives are,” said Daniela Dinkins, of Boston. “Like, if you really want to speak to the core, speak to us. It tells me that you’re leaning toward more moderate voters or just people who are genuinely angry versus the ones who actually care and are educated.”
Dinkins, a junior at Suffolk University, said that she is not personally a Trump supporter. “I don’t think he’s serious. I have a lot of friends who support him hard core, but I haven’t actually heard him say how he’s going to do the things he says he’s going to do, which is a problem for me.”
Emily Green, a high school senior from Tallahassee, Florida, who had managed to get Fox News personality Sean Hannity to sign her conference badge, said she was disappointed.
“I’m a little bummed,” she said. “I was planning on camping out early in the morning” to get a good spot in the conference hall.
Does she support Trump. “No,” she said. “I just wanted to hear him speak.”
Andrew Drum, senior at Hood College in Maryland, said he wasn’t sure why Trump would back out of a CPAC appearance. “I’m not going to try to read his mind, but I think he should come…if he cares about conservative voters.”
“At the beginning of the election season I tried to stay neutral and objective and observe all the candidates,” said Drum. “At the beginning, I liked what Trump had to say, but after a while his rhetoric kind of offended me.”
But not everyone was sorry to hear that The Donald wouldn’t be attending.
“I think it’s good for everyone here, and I think it’s good for him, because I don’t think he would be warmly received,” said David Livaudais, of Herndon, Va., who supports Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “I think it rips the mask off and exposes him for what he really is – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The American Conservative Union (ACU), which organizes CPAC, said in a statement: “We are very disappointed Donald Trump has decided at the last minute to drop out of CPAC. This comes at a critical time in our movement’s history. His decision sends a clear message to grassroots conservatives.”
The group added: “CPAC is the heart and soul of the conservative movement and will be, with or without Mr. Trump.”
The Trump campaign said that the candidate had decided to spend time on the campaign trail Saturday instead of attending the gathering but hoped to return next year as president.
Not mentioned by either the ACU or the Trump campaign was a rumored mass walkout during Trump’s speech. It would have been an echo of last year’s gathering, when dozens of attendees walked out during an appearance by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.