As Trump Backs Out Of CPAC, GOP Leaders Debate How To Stop Him
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A day after a contentious debate among Republican presidential candidates, now party stalwarts are meeting in Washington. It's the annual Conservative Political Action Conference known as CPAC, normally where political candidates go to rally supporters. Today one candidate wasn't there - Donald Trump. Instead, there was an intense conversation about how to stop him, and watching all the action was NPR's Sarah McCammon, who is with us now. And Sarah, tell us, why didn't Donald Trump show up today?
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: He was expected to face a hostile crowd here. There was some talk of a walkout during his speech which was scheduled for tomorrow morning. So his campaign announced he will instead hold a rally in Wichita, Kan., tomorrow. Kansas is one of four states on the Republican side that are holding elections that day.
MCEVERS: And so Trump blows off CPAC. I mean, how were people there reacting to that?
MCCAMMON: Not too favorably. You know, there was talk about the debate last night - some awkward moments, if you saw that. A couple people said it was shocking, and weird, one woman told me, and she wished the debates were a little more mature, more civil. Another man said he thought it was kind of crazy, and several people said that they thought that Trump, you know, should've come here and was afraid to face the crowd. A Tea Party person who spoke from the stage said that Donald Trump isn't a Tea Party person and doesn't believe in the Constitution.
MCEVERS: I mean, there has been a lot of talk today, and all this week, really, about the possibility of a brokered convention for the Republican nominee - something that hasn't happened in almost seven years for the Republican Party. Republicans who are opposed to Trump see this as, you know, possibly their last chance to stop him from becoming the nominee. What are people talking about regarding this, there at CPAC?
MCCAMMON: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is trying to tamp all that talk down. He said he thinks there's an 85 percent to 90 percent chance that someone will come into the convention in Cleveland with a majority of delegates. He talked about party unity. Let's take a listen to some of what he had to say.
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REINCE PRIEBUS: First of all, let me just clear something up for everybody very clearly. Whoever the nominee is of our party, they're going to get the full backing and a hundred percent support of the Republican Party.
MCCAMMON: So you heard him say there that no matter who the nominee is they get the full support of the Republican National Committee. If you listened to that debate last night, despite candidates saying Trump was dangerous and unqualified, all four candidates, you know, left in the race say they would support the nominee.
MCCAMMON: Now, not everyone, though, is on board with Priebus in predicting that a candidate will have a majority heading into Cleveland. In fact, here at CPAC, Ohio Gov. John Kasich predicted the opposite.
MCEVERS: There were other Republican candidates who were there at CPAC. Ted Cruz, of course, is in second place right now behind Trump. Did he talk about Trump today?
MCCAMMON: He did. He went on the attack, and here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TED CRUZ: So Donald Trump is skipping CPAC.
CRUZ: I think somebody told him Megyn Kelly was going to be here.
CRUZ: Or, even worse, he was told there were conservatives that were going to be here.
CRUZ: Or, even worse, he was told there were libertarians that were going to be here.
MCCAMMON: Yeah, Fox News host Megyn Kelly, you know, he's tangled with her before. I should mention - this is a conservative activist crowd and doesn't represent the broader Republican Party right now.
MCEVERS: And quickly, there is one candidate who we expect might not be there much longer. Ben Carson has signaled that he's ending his presidential bid. Has he spoken at CPAC yet?
MCCAMMON: At any time now we're expected to hear more about his future in this speech, but he is expected to suspend his campaign.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thanks so much.
MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.