PARK CITY, Utah – More than anything, the people who bankrolled Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign want to win the presidential race. It’s just not clear they’re convinced anyone currently running is capable of beating Hillary Clinton – even though everyone who showed up tried hard to convince them.
“We have fought the good fights over and over and over again – and we have won those fights,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, arguing that senators have fought without winning and other governors have won races without having to fight hard for it.
“I’ll have a track record that says I know how to win things,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
They were two of the six candidates who gathered at this luxurious mountain resort to mix and mingle with hedge fund managers, political operatives and the odd celebrity, including NBA Commissioner David Stern. They’re all here for the invitation-only E2 Summit hosted by Romney in connection with Solamere Capital, the hedge fund led by his son Tagg.
The gathering brings together dozens of the people who collectively raised half a billion dollars for the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The group is loosely connected through Spencer Zwick, Romney’s finance director, who earlier this year was a key player urging Romney to run for a third time.
But the group hasn’t hung together the way some of its leaders had imagined. Instead, they’ve splintered among several of the more establishment-oriented candidates, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Walker, Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and even long-shot candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham of North Carolina.At the gathering, most of the speakers were introduced by a top Romney donor who had signed on with one of the new faces. Anthony Scaramucci, a top investment banker and Romney donor, introduced Walker, while Wayne Berman, of the venture capital firm Blackstone, introduced Rubio.
While many of these donors are already committed, there are still plenty who aren’t – and in a hugely crowded field, the event represented a chance to be a wealthy backer’s second choice.
For Christie, that meant pitching himself as a truth-teller who would wear well over the course of a long campaign. He criticized some of his potential foes by name, criticizing Sen. Rand Paul over national security and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on entitlement reform. “Performance matters,” Christie said.
Kasich roamed the stage in his typical freewheeling style, attendees nodding along as he talked about treating people with compassion. “It’s a disgrace to not help people get on their feet to hep realize their God given potential,” he said.
And Graham was an anecdotal standout among attendees, particularly for his sense of humor. “Good looking, smart, nice, great family,” he said of the Romneys during his speech. “Vote for me, we’re not going down this road again.”
But it was Rubio – who was a favored surrogate for the 2012 Romney campaign – who stood out. He played a game of early morning flag football with some of the attendees before stepping behind the podium to deliver a version of his standard campaign speech.
But he also went a little deeper than usual in answering a question about immigration, which was a top concern for the business-minded crowd. He described Latino voters as working class voters who are primarily concerned about making a better life for their kids. But he also described them as knowing a loved one who was struggling with the immigration issue.
“When it comes to the Hispanic vote – absolutely immigration is a legitimate issue,” he said. “When people speak about … [immigrants] in negative ways – it bothers you. It’s hard to listen to anything else they’re saying.”
Figuring out how to change that calculus enough to win a general election was an existential concern for those in Park City.
“If we don’t [win], we will be a party on the edge of irrelevance because we will have lost three times in a row,” said Christie. “That’s what we should be focused on now – all the rest of the stuff, everybody, in my opinion is background noise. It’s background noise.”