Romney, GOP chair issue clashing Trump statements

  • Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during a rally in Richmond, Va., Friday, June 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Steve Helber

  • FILE - In this May 13, 2016, file photo, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus speaks at RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Donald Trump can be an effective president, and he’s going to win with you or without you, Priebus told several hundred of the party’s top donors and strategists at the annual business and politics summit hosted by Mitt Romney on Saturday, June 11. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. Scott Applewhite

Associated Press
Published: 6/11/2016 9:33:57 PM

Donald Trump can be an effective president, and he’s going to win with you or without you, Republican Chairman Reince Priebus told several hundred of the party’s top donors and strategists Saturday.

Trump is setting a dangerous example for Americans by promoting “trickle-down racism,” and the party must look beyond this presidential election to find its future, the 2012 nominee Mitt Romney told the same group later that morning.

Delivered within moments of each other at Romney’s annual business and politics summit at a five-star ski resort, those opposite messages were enough to cause whiplash. That’s a hazard of being a Republican this year, as the party struggles to figure out what to do with its controversial presumptive presidential nominee.

Blinking back tears as he spoke, an impassioned Romney said many have asked him to get off his “high horse” and back Trump, seeing presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as unacceptable. “Either choice is destructive,” Romney said. “I love this country. I love the founders. I love what this country is built upon, and its values. And seeing this is breaking my heart.”

Romney said he would not spend time campaigning for or against Trump and predicted 90 percent of Republicans would vote for Trump.

The attendees, about 300 of Romney’s longtime donors and friends, provided a snapshot of the wide range of GOP sentiment about Trump. While most are eager to keep Clinton out of the White House.

Behind closed doors at the summit, Hewlett Packard President Meg Whitman likened Trump to Mussolini and Hitler and suggested she might vote for Clinton. GOP strategists and vocal Trump skeptics Stuart Stevens, Ana Navarro and Kristen Soltis Anderson told attendees to brace for a Clinton White House because Trump doesn’t appeal to growing voter blocs, including Latinos.

“It’s very difficult to envision” how Trump can win, Anderson said in a rare on-the-record session.

House Speaker Paul Ryan squirmed as he was asked how he could support Trump after denouncing the candidate’s comments about the judge. He demurred, as he did during Whitman’s Trump tirade, saying his leadership position means he must convey the will of Republican representatives, not just his own.

Yet many Republicans at the summit want to find a way – and some can’t.

And there were those now firmly on Team Trump. Anthony Scaramucci, a New York investor, and Andy Puzder, a California fast-food chain executive, shook the money trees for their candidate. “This is not a rabidly anti-Trump crowd,” Scaramucci said. “If anything, people are trying to find ways to diplomatically support the candidate.”

Most of the three-day conference’s sessions were closed to reporters, but described in detail by multiple attendees. Called the Experts and Enthusiasts summit, the gathering is sponsored by Solamere Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by Zwick and one of Romney’s sons.

Missing from the gathering was Trump himself; he has never been invited to speak to the Romney crowd.

Trump weighed in from afar, saying at a Saturday rally in Tampa that Romney is bitter because he’s a failed presidential candidate who “choked like a dog.”

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