The influential network of donors who joined forces to boost the 2012 presidential bid of Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, are meeting in Park City, Utah, on Tuesday, where they will hear from four of the GOP presidential candidates who are trying to prove to donors that they are best positioned to defeat Donald Trump.
Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Mike Pence and Doug Burgum will all address those potential backers in closed-door sessions at the policy gathering known as the E2 Summit, which was launched by Romney before he became a U.S. senator from Utah and then helmed by Ryan, the former House Speaker, beginning in 2019.
The group of some 250 attendees are coming together at a critical juncture with just over three months before Iowa’s GOP caucuses kick off the nominating process and as House Republican leaders are in disarray following the ouster of Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) as House speaker. They will be taking the measure of the 2024 contenders at a moment when the candidates are running short on time to halt Trump’s momentum in a year when many top donors have remained on the sidelines — skeptical about the ability of any one candidate to topple the former president, who has built a wide lead in polls of the GOP race.
Spencer Zwick, Romney’s former finance chair, described the attendees as individuals who are “sincerely looking for an alternative to Donald Trump” who “want to get excited about getting behind someone that they believe would be a thoughtful, serious candidate for president.”
“To pretend like Donald Trump isn’t looming over the presidential primary would be would be foolish — they understand that. But this group is not just going to sit back and say, ‘Okay, well, let’s just accept that Donald Trump’s going to be the nominee,’” Zwick said. “If people in this room, and at this gathering, start to really get behind one or two of these candidates. You’re going to see some real movement in the polls. … At some point, and hopefully in the not too distant future, we can start to coalesce around a smaller group of candidates.”
Zwick, Eric Scheuermann and Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney’s son, founded the private equity firm known as Solamere Capital that helps organize the E2 conference; Ryan is one of Solamere’s partners.
Romney, a vocal Trump critic who last month announced that he will not run for reelection, will address the group Tuesday night in a conversation with Ryan. He is expected to discuss his dismay about the current turmoil in the House of Representatives — and how that could affect the ability of the United States to handle challenges ranging from threats posed by China to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Topics at other closed-door sessions at the E2 summit — a group named for “experts and enthusiasts” — will focus on challenges in foreign policy, business and tech.
The presidential candidates will address E2 donors in sessions that are not open to press. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), among others, were also invited to attend.
The gathering comes at an opportune time for Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who has been rising in some early state polls on the strength of her well-received performances at two recent televised debates.
Christie, a former New Jersey governor and onetime Trump ally turned critic, has addressed E2 in past years and is looking to raise his profile in the polls in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Pence, Trump’s former vice president, and North Dakota Gov. Burgum have both struggled to gain traction in the presidential race. Burgum has lent millions to his campaign, but he has also courted key tech backers who were friends and business associates during his earlier career as a software entrepreneur.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp — who has spoken forcefully about the need for the GOP to find a way forward beyond Trump — will also attend the Park City gathering. Trump’s former attorney general William P. Barr, who was critical of Trump’s baseless efforts to claim that the 2020 election was rigged, will also be there.
Other attendees include former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford Jr., former deputy assistant secretary of defense Michèle Flournoy and Federal Reserve governor Christopher Waller. Two leaders in artificial intelligence — Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang and Dario Amodei, the CEO of Anthropic — will also join the group. Amodei has been an key voice in the national debate about the dangers posed by the rapid development of AI.