Donald Trump backs out of CPAC

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump will no longer speak at the annual conservative confab CPAC this weekend, he announced Friday.

Trump was scheduled to speak at the annual gathering of the who's-who of the conservative world Saturday, but said he would be campaigning, instead.
In a statement, the Trump campaign said the GOP front-runner will instead attend rallies in Kansas and Florida.
    "Because of this, he will not be able to speak at CPAC as he has done for many consecutive years," the campaign said. "Mr. Trump would like to thank Matt Schlapp and all of the executives at CPAC and looks forward to returning to next year, hopefully as president of the United States."
    The American Conservative Union, the conference's organizers, said it was "disappointed."
    "We are very disappointed Donald Trump has decided at the last minute to drop out of CPAC," the group said. "This comes at a critical time in our movement's history. His decision sends a clear message to grassroots conservatives."
    But ACU said it remains "neutral" on the presidential race.
    "CPAC is the heart and soul of the conservative movement and will be, with or without Mr. Trump," ACU said. "Since we invited him several months ago—and Mr. Trump accepted our invitation and terms —we made it clear all candidates would follow the same format. And now he is backing out."
    The sudden change of course comes as the GOP is mired in a near civil war over Trump's candidacy. On Thursday, former nominee Mitt Romney delivered a speech solely to tear down Trump and urge Republicans to vote for one of his opponents.
    Though all three of the other candidates said during Thursday night's GOP debate they would back Trump if he were the eventual nominee, they have railed against him, with Sen. Marco Rubio using the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter and calling him a "con artist" that would split up the GOP.
    CPAC is a must-do event on the conservative calendar, with the other candidates and many of the former candidates making an appearance this year.