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Ben Carson Officially Suspends Presidential Campaign At CPAC


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. One candidate who won't be there though is Donald Trump. He was supposed to address the group tomorrow. Instead, he announced today that he will be campaigning in Kansas instead. Another candidate who was there was Ben Carson, and he made it official that he is out of the race. Watching all of this was NPR's Sarah McCammon. And she is with us now. And Sarah, let us start with this news. Ben Carson is out of the race. He made that clear today, yes?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Yeah, and we kind of knew this was coming. You know, after his poor performance on Super Tuesday, he said he didn't see a path to the nomination. Here's what he had to say today.


BEN CARSON: Even though I might be leaving the campaign - you know, there's a lot of people who love me. They just won't vote for me, but it's OK...


MCCAMMON: Then the crowd gave him a standing ovation. And, you know, this is a very conservative crowd, so Ben Carson's popular here.

MCEVERS: Right. Is he endorsing anyone now that he's out of the race?

MCCAMMON: He did not come out and say who to endorse, Kelly. But, you know, he said he'd heard from some of his supporters that they won't vote for anyone but him. He said that's a mistake. Not voting is a vote for the other side. And he said in particular, he fears Hillary Clinton becoming president and getting to pick the next round of Supreme Court justices. Here's what he had to say about that.


CARSON: She's going to get two to four Supreme Court picks. Now, that is - that's going to I think the future for our children, our grandchildren, all of our progeny. I think that's just as bad as taking a knife and stabbing them with it - think about that. So let's not do that.

MCCAMMON: Some strong words there from Ben Carson indicating that he thinks conservatives should still vote even though he's not in the race and vote for a Republican. He's just not saying who.

MCEVERS: And so we said, Donald Trump has decided to skip CPAC. What's your sense of why he did that, and how are folks there reacting to it?

MCCAMMON: You know, this is a very conservative crowd. It's not really representative of the wider GOP and not the kind of place where Trump is especially popular. There was talk of walkouts during his speech. People told me they were disappointed that he's skipping the event, and a lot of people said they were really put off by Trump's debate performance last night - some of the off-color language and crude remarks.

ELISE YOST: That was shocking and weird. I wish the debates weren't like that. I wish they were more mature, I guess you could say.

TOM GRAHAM: I thought it was a little bit crazy. I watched it in a bar, and when I got done, I drank heavily.

MCCAMMON: So we just heard from Elise Yost, a college student from Wisconsin, and Tom Graham from Leavenworth, Kan. Graham told me though - you know, he pointed out that he thinks Trump didn't come because he likes to be in control of the situation and doesn't want to face a crowd of conservative activists.

MCEVERS: All right, so we've talked about Ben Carson, who is out, and Donald Trump, who is in first but not coming to the conference. What about the man who's in second place, Ted Cruz? What did he have to say there?

MCCAMMON: He got a huge reception from the crowd. I mean, this is his crowd - lots of libertarians and some religious conservatives. And he went after Trump for not showing up. Here's what he said.


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: Of course, Megyn Kelly is the Fox News host that Trump has tangled with before. But Cruz wasn't just targeting Trump. He's also going after Marco Rubio. And Cruz said from the stage that this talk of a brokered convention that's been going on is just the establishment being unhappy that their golden children haven't been chosen. Cruz is staying on the offensive. His campaign has just opened up 10 more offices in Rubio's home state of Florida, which is of course where 99 delegates are at stake on March 15.

MCEVERS: That was NPR political reporter Sarah McCammon. Thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.