The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is famous for being a testing ground for Republican presidential candidates, but one potential 2016 contender, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, will be conspicuously absent this year.
As scandal swirls around New Jersey governor Chris Christie, many in the party establishment are looking to Bush for signs of political life. Bush, who delivered one of the keynote speeches at CPAC last year, is the only figure in the GOP who could surge instantly to the front of the presidential pack in the eyes of establishment figures by signaling an intention to run.
He won’t be doing so on the CPAC stage, though. “Jeb made sure that we knew that he couldn’t make it,” a CPAC insider tells National Review Online, and the governor’s office confirmed that he will miss this year’s conference due to “previously scheduled business commitments.”
CPAC, which is to be held in early March in National Harbor, Md., has historically offered the party’s presidential contenders a chance to test-run their messages before a young and ebullient segment of the GOP base and with the longtime party activists who gather for the event.
“All the potential 2016-ers, with the exception of [Wisconsin governor Scott] Walker and [Indiana governor Mike] Pence who are in the middle of legislative sessions, made sure we knew they were available speak,” the CPAC insider says.
That includes New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was snubbed by conference organizers last year for a record they viewed as insufficiently conservative; according to American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas, though, Christie will take the CPAC stage in March. Walker, a Christie pal, is reportedly working to get a CPAC appearance on his calendar despite his commitments in Wisconsin.
The six confirmed speakers for this year’s conference are all rumored presidential contenders: Florida senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.