Donald Trump has canceled a scheduled speech today at the Conservative Political Action Conference, snubbing a gathering of activists while possibly averting an ugly media scene.
The American Conservative Union, CPAC's sponsors, announced the snub with a short tweet, following a morning of rumors that Trump would dodge the conference.
"Very disappointed @realDonaldTrump has decided at the last minute to drop out of #CPAC — his choice sends a clear message to conservatives."
In a statement minutes later, Trump's campaign said the candidate had scheduled a Saturday speech in Wichita, hours before Kansas' competitive caucuses begin.
"He will also be speaking at the Kansas Caucus and then departing for Orlando, Fla., and a crowd of approximately 20,000 people or more," Trump's campaign announced. "Because of this, he will not be able to speak at CPAC as he has done for many consecutive years. Mr. Trump would like to thank Matt Schlapp and all of the executives at CPAC and looks forward to returning next year, hopefully as President of the United States."
But even a glance around the halls of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., suggested that Trump was heading for a disaster. He was scheduled to speak at 8:30 a.m., kicking off a day often sapped of energy by activists straggling in after sleeping off their Friday nights. He was likely to confront a protest or walkout from some activists, including one led by William Temple, a tea party activist.
"We planned one," said Ben Howe, a contributing editor at RedState. "Looks like he heard about it."
He also was more than likely to face an unfamiliar sight on the Trump trail: a half-empty room. Trump's Secret Service protection would have mandated a security checkpoint, and the one laid out for Ben Carson on Friday created a traffic snarl, with activists lining up for 30 minutes or more.
Debate ratings: Fox News drew the highest ratings for a Republican debate since December, with 16.9 million viewers tuning in Thursday night.
The debate reunited front-runner Donald Trump and moderator Megyn Kelly on the stage for the first time since August.
The ratings Thursday represent the fourth-highest viewership for a debate ever. The numbers were significantly higher than the 12.5 million viewers that watched the late January debate on Fox News that Trump refused to join because of Kelly's involvement.
The viewership total also is the largest since CNN's debate in December, which drew more than 18 million viewers. Fox News holds the record for the most-watched primary debate: Its August debate had 24 million viewers.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.