Todd Starnes, The Super Bowl of conservative politics is under way in Washington, D.C.
CPAC kicked off with a panel hosted by yours truly – featuring members of the House Freedom Caucus.
A who’s who of conservative stars will be speaking including former President Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
But it’s who’s not speaking or attending that’s making headlines.
Former Vice President Mike Pence is a no-show and so is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Both men are expected to run for the White House in 2024.
So it’s puzzling why they would snub the most influential gathering of conservatives in the country.
And it’s especially odd for Gov. DeSantis – who has faced withering criticism over his ties to Establishment Republicans like Jeb Bush.
Just last week Bush appeared in a campaign-style video gushing over DeSantis and his Republican credentials. It was clearly an endorsement despite Bush’s protestations to the contrary.
Instead of greeting grassroots conservatives, the governor is going to be on the main stage of the Club for Growth’s super-exclusive retreat for donors in Palm Beach. And he’s scheduled to speak at the same time President Trump greets CPAC attendees — in person.
DeSantis had a choice and he chose the champagne and caviar crowd over the meatloaf and mashed potatoes crowd.
It’s red meat for President Trump – who is leading DeSantis by double digits in just about every poll in the country.
The CPAC snub is not the only misstep made by Team DeSantis.
His decision to avoid interviews with conservative media platforms is odd. His communications staff has held conservative journalists at arm’s length – condescending.
One well-known national conservative pundit was brushed aside and told to check back “next year” for an interview.
It’s one thing to protect the governor’s brand. It’s another to be downright rude.
I like DeSantis. I really do. He’s governed well in Florida and he checks off a lot of conservative boxes. But I want to see him debate his fellow conservatives.
I want him to face tough questions from conservative journalists. And I want to know whether or not he can take a political punch.
There’s no doubt that the donor dollars from the pro-China Club for Growth is tempting. There’s no doubt that it’s flattering to be wined and dined by party elders. And the bright lights of Fox News Channel are certainly intoxicating.
But if DeSantis wants to really win the hearts and minds of conservatives, he needs to be walking the halls at CPAC, not sipping fruity drinks on the beach with Jeb Bush.