Most of the Republican Celebration’s marquee gamers — together with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and the highest GOP leaders in Congress — will skip this week’s Conservative Political Motion Convention in Maryland, dealing a major blow to the annual gathering’s stature.

The abandonment of CPAC, which runs from Wednesday via Saturday, comes as its chairman, Matt Schlapp, defends himself towards a lawsuit alleging that he fondled a male aide to then-Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia in October, with out the aide’s consent.

In a submitting in a Virginia courtroom this month, Schlapp’s legal professionals wrote that he denies having dedicated sexual battery.

Regardless of the mass exodus, the occasion’s most dominant determine — former President Donald Trump — plans to talk on the convention late Saturday afternoon, in accordance with his spokesman, Steven Cheung.

Somebody mentioned to me, ‘All of us wished an excuse to not go, and Schlapp gave it to us.’

— A GOP operative about CPAC

Not one of the politicians declining to attend have cited the allegations as the rationale for his or her absence, however a number of Republicans who spoke on the situation of anonymity mentioned it’s a issue within the broader motion away from the convention.

A supply accustomed to Pence’s resolution didn’t say it was primarily based on the lawsuit towards Schlapp however added, “Most principals are growing their distance due to that, due to these allegations.” One other supply whose shoppers had beforehand attended the convention mentioned they’ve particularly cited the Schlapp allegation as a cause they wished to distance themselves this 12 months.

There’s a sense amongst some Republicans that the convention was turning into extra of a chore in recent times, mentioned a veteran GOP operative who isn’t attending this 12 months and requested to stay nameless to talk candidly.

“Somebody mentioned to me, ‘All of us wished an excuse to not go, and Schlapp gave it to us,’” the operative mentioned.

DeSantis, who has been in demand throughout the nation as he seems to be gearing up for a possible 2024 presidential marketing campaign launch, might be in Texas for GOP dinners in Houston and Dallas, in addition to in California.

“He is not going to be at CPAC,” the supply with data of the schedule mentioned Monday.

The listing of luminaries skipping CPAC is lengthy and prestigious: Republican Nationwide Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Home Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin are amongst them.

An individual accustomed to the plans of McDaniel, who has spoken at CPAC earlier than, declined to elaborate on the rationale for her absence this 12 months. Prior to now, the RNC has additionally been listed as a sponsor of CPAC; this 12 months, it isn’t.

McConnell, notably, has not attended the occasion in recent times. The group booed him in 2021, when former President Donald Trump took a dig at him in his CPAC speech.

McCarthy might be out of city, an aide mentioned.

The individual accustomed to Pence’s resolution mentioned: “There’s been a distance between the 2 entities for a couple of years now. … Rules and values now not align.”

The convention has lengthy been a means for GOP politicians and motion leaders to succeed in a big conservative activist crowd — and all of the media consideration that comes with it.

In recent times, it has been the Trump present. Nonetheless, some had speculated that DeSantis might parachute in on the final second, given a latest penchant to indicate he can function on Trump turf. That won’t be taking place, nevertheless.

DeSantis did communicate at CPAC final 12 months, when it was in Florida. Pence has not attended since 2020.

Each Schlapp and his spouse, Mercedes Schlapp, are named within the lawsuit, which incorporates allegations that they participated in smearing the person who accuses Matt Schlapp of sexual misconduct.

“As said in courtroom filings of February 9, 2023, the Schlapps deny the plaintiff’s allegations,” mentioned Mark Corrallo, a spokesman for the Schlapps. “We is not going to touch upon issues at present pending earlier than the courtroom in Virginia.”

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who not too long ago launched her presidential 2024 bid, nonetheless plans to attend, an aide confirmed. Different audio system on the agenda embrace Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.

The conservative Membership for Development will maintain its annual donor retreat in Florida this week on the similar time. DeSantis, Pence, Haley and others are scheduled to talk at that occasion; Trump isn’t.

Sahil Kapur, Gary Grumbach , Garrett Haake, Henry J. Gomez and Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.