PARK CITY, UTAH -- One year ago, Mitt Romney’s annual donor and thought-leader summit here was buzzing with excitement. Half a dozen Republican presidential candidates – or potential candidates - attended to gain favor with the influential guest list of prominent Republicans and hopes were high for the 2016 election. Donald Trump formally entered the race five days later.
Now at the 2016 version of the annual retreat in this tony mountain enclave, the attendance is lower and the mood is serious.
Romney has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Trump and attendees, including many Republican donors, are like-minded and concerned about the presumptive nominee's impact on the party as a whole.
In the past month, Trump has attacked a federal judge because of his Mexican heritage, called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” referred to a black man at his rally as “my African American” and called on Gov. John Kasich, a popular governor of a swing state, to leave the GOP.
Even though the purpose of the gathering is to talk policy and big-picture ideas -- including in forums with Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, Bob Woodson, a community organizer working with Republicans on issues of poverty and Walter Isaacson, the head of the intellectual Aspen Institute -- there is no escaping Trump.
At the end of a rare session open to the media was time for just one question. The question was about Trump. Panelist and author Kristen Soltis Anderson chuckled at the question and said, "Notice I didn't say his name once" during the talk. She went on to say that she thinks it's going to be "very difficult" for Trump to win. But then she added: "I'm no longer in the business of betting against Donald Trump."
The line-up of speakers includes vocal anti-Trump Republicans like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is considering voting for a third party and #NeverTrump financier and Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman. Another attendee is former Trump competitor, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who hedged on his support of Trump this week.
But this is not strictly an anti-Trump gathering. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate just four years ago who has gotten behind the candidate (but has also publicly criticized him), is addressing the conference.
And Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus will hold a joint session with Anthony Scaramucci, a top Republican fundraiser who has joined Trump’s finance team. They are expected to press for party unity and to get behind the nominee.
In a bipartisan session Thursday evening, former Republican Secretary of State and Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary for President Obama, together urged people to support the candidate who can bridge the partisan divide, according to attendees who listened to him speak.
This post originally said that Rep. Trey Gowdy would attend. He will no longer be attending.