Matt Schlapp allegedly groped a young man—hurting his already dwindling influence
Schlapp’s lobbying business has cratered. Now his Republican support is on thin ice.
Good afternoon, Press Pass readers! Today’s edition is all about Matt Schlapp, the Republican influence peddler and chair of the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC).
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Schlapp’s allies in Washington span Republican politics and, once upon a time, a significant number of powerful corporations. But in the wake of a lawsuit that followed multiple news reports about allegations that Schlapp sexually assaulted a young man working for the Herschel Walker campaign, those close ties appear to be fraying—and fast.
Schlapp’s lobbying firm, Cove Strategies, has lost significant business over the past two years, but that can be chalked up primarily to his diminished influence at a time of Democratic control in Washington. After losing a hefty roster of corporate clients, Schlapp sent a letter a few weeks before the midterm elections offering CPAC’s support for candidates on the condition that they pledge not to meet with CEOs and lobbyists for corporations who have “gone woke.” Schlapp’s previous clients included major corporations such as Walmart, Samsung, and Comcast.
But Cove still held on to one client through last year: Oracle, the software giant (and proponent of DEI policies that Schlapp and his allies would probably deride as “woke”). According to a disclosure signed by Schlapp last Friday, he brought in $50,000 from Oracle at the end of 2022, bringing the total to $200,000 for the year. A spokesperson for Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.
Many Congressional Republicans are keeping Schlapp at arm’s length
CPAC’s main annual conference is making its return to Washington in March after several years in Florida, where it moved in protest of mask mandates. (CPAC also hosts other big meetings elsewhere, including a gathering in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary last year—an event it plans to repeat this year.) This year’s proceedings will take place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, a huge space just across the river from D.C. in National Harbor, Maryland. A spokesperson for Marriott, which manages the Gaylord Resort, did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans in Congress have become ambivalent about Schlapp, with some waffling on any plans to attend the conference.
James Lankford, the Oklahoma senator who appears regularly at CPAC—last year, he led a Protestant service on the Sunday morning of the conference in Orlando—told me he’s received his invitation to attend, but right now he is unwilling to commit to a speaking engagement.
“We did get a reach-out from them,” he said. “But we’ve not even determined the schedule on that, so I don’t know.”
Sen. Mike Braun, who is currently moonlighting as a candidate for governor of Indiana, didn’t seem enthused at the idea of attending CPAC this year. Braun, who participated in a panel under the title “Obamacare Still Kills” at last year’s convention, made a point of telling me he had only ever been to CPAC the one time. He added, “We’re not scheduled to be on there. I went there [to speak on] health care only because I’d like to reform it.”
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who just announced his re-election campaign, brushed off the allegations against Schlapp, telling me he would happily go to CPAC if invited.
“Everybody’s got to explain what happened, so we’ll figure it out,” he said. “My experience has been really positive with CPAC . . . I don’t know if I’ll get invited, but assuming I do, I’ll probably go.”
Freshman Ohio Rep. Max Miller, a former Trump administration staffer who played a role in organizing Trump’s January 6th rally on the Ellipse in front of the White House, said he’d, “have to look into it to make the assessment” on whether to attend CPAC. “In terms of the allegations, that’s unfortunate for Mr. Schlapp,” he added.
Rep. Ralph Norman, the South Carolina Republican who played a key role in stalling Kevin McCarthy’s journey to the speakership, participated in an interview with Schlapp after the allegations against him were already public and had been reported on by multiple media outlets.
Norman told me he will speak again at CPAC this year: “I’ve always been a supporter of [Schlapp’s] and CPAC’s,” he said. “So we’ll see how that plays out.”
Regarding the allegations, Norman said, “There’s two sides to every coin, and this is completely different from . . . the CPAC functions,” referring to policy issues like the federal budget.
“That’s his issue. He’s been accused of something,” Norman said. “He’ll have to finish that.”
Two regularly featured CPAC guests, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, refused to answer questions about Schlapp, opting instead to walk away in silence.
So far, there is one confirmed attendee who is himself no stranger to sexual misconduct allegations. Schlapp announced last week that Donald Trump will be a featured speaker. As of today, CPAC has confirmed two Republican members of Congress to speak: Tennessee Rep. Mark Green and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Fox News has taken the Schlapps off the air
Schlapp has also quietly disappeared from the Fox News airwaves. Schlapp and his wife Mercedes, a former director of strategic communications for the Trump White House, were longtime fixtures on Fox, with both of them making dozens of appearances in 2022. (Mercedes was once a paid contributor.) But since the allegations were published in the Daily Beast and then amplified by NBC News, the duo has not appeared on the network, which has also not covered the allegations.
Zachary Pleat of Media Matters wrote a smart analysis of the Schlapps’ apparent hiatus, noting that the allegations have received substantial coverage on other networks, especially after the former Walker staffer filed his lawsuit against Schlapp on January 17.
Matt Schlapp’s power over the years has stemmed from his connections. His relationships with GOP members of Congress, his ability to curry favors with Republicans in power positions on behalf of corporations, and his role as a ticket-taker and ringleader of the CPAC circus, with its big crowds and media attention, have been key components of that. All of that has severely diminished in the last couple of years, since Trump left town and CPAC fled D.C.’s COVID restrictions. The allegations that Schlapp groped a young man, and the lawsuit that has lent further credence to those allegations, are not helping him reconsolidate his power now that Republicans have regained some sway in Washington.
This would make me feel bad for Mercedes Schlapp if she wasn’t Mercedes Schlapp
I love it whenever one of these scummy hypocrites gets outed for being the piece of shit they are.