What Mitt Romney's bizarre weekend retreat reveals about the GOP primary

Romney invited all of the "mainstream" Republican candidates to gladhand wealthy donors this weekend

By Heather Digby Parton

Published June 15, 2015 5:15PM (EDT)

  (Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
(Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

It's getting to the point where one can't help but wonder if the reason all these Republican candidates for president are having trouble breaking away from the pack might simply be attributed to the fact that they spend so much time attending donor "summits" that they don't have time to appeal to actual voters. Yes, most of the passengers on the GOP magic bus made yet another pilgrimage this past week-end to yet another gathering of millionaires and billionaires, this one hosted by the would-be King and wannabe Kingmaker, Mitt Romney.

As one would expect of a meeting of GOP presidential candidates and their potential benefactors, the event was "sponsored" by Romney's son's private equity firm, called Solamere, and included 200 investors who came out to Utah to meet the people they might hire to run their country for them.

All the so-called mainstream candidates attended, such as they are. Notably missing from that group was Jeb Bush, who was still cavorting around Europe pretending to have foreign policy expertise. (The Jeb team --both the fired ones and the newly hired ones -- were undoubtedly relieved that he managed to get through it without a Romney-esque or Christie-esque or Walker-esque gaffe.) Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum and Carson weren't there, which is perhaps Romney's revenge on the social conservatives who never liked him anyway. Neither was Rand Paul, of course. Nobody likes him. Evidently they are all considered to be the crazy aunts in the attic, although it's very hard to see why they're any more embarrassing than the so-called A-list. But Walker, Christie, Graham, Kasich, Fiorina and Rubio eagerly made the trip for a chance to interview with the big bosses.

But it wasn't all business. Probably the most eagerly anticipated activity of he week-end was the opportunity to attend a sunrise yoga session hosted by Ann Romney and Bloomberg News' Mark Halperin. Its hard to imagine a more meditative way to start the day than watching a political pundit twist himself into a pretzel. (Well, it's actually easy to imagine if you watch "Morning Joe.") But skeet shooting with Lindsay Graham was widely reported as the highlight of the weekend. He's become the comedian of the group and not just when he's hysterically declaring that ISIS is coming to kill us all. He kept the rich guys and press alike in stitches with quips like "We tried tall, good looking, smart, nice, great family man. Vote for me, we’re not going down that path again.” But this anecdote probably captures the flavor of the event more than any other:

Graham admitted he hasn’t had to turn away any million-dollar checks since he arrived (campaign finance laws bar candidates from taking more than $2,700 from any one individual). But he added he hopes a super PAC – an outside group that could spend unlimited amounts of money supporting him but with which he’d be barred from coordinating — emerges soon to support his presidential candidacy. Unlike some of his competitors, Graham, as a federal officeholder, couldn’t start one himself, even before he officially declared his bid.

He ran into Romney in person shortly after arriving on Friday night at the exclusive lodge where the conference is being held. They shook hands at the top of a staircase overlooking a cocktail party that was already in full swing.

“There’s money down there Lindsey, go get it!” Romney said with a big smile. Graham smiled back, then started down the staircase.

The reporter probably didn't notice Graham's tail wagging or Mitt saying "good boy" under his breath.

John Kasich told the Republican donors, "you think you're going to beat Hillary Clinton by just destroying the Clintons? You've got to be kidding me," which is akin to saying that it's not enough to simply kill Moby Dick. Carly Fiorina offered the unusual insight that "everything" about her "is different." Scott Walker spent most of his time sequestered with potential doors but he did tell the whole group that he'd won in a blue state and that he'd only been recalled once in his one and a half terms. (Ok, he didn't mention the recall.) Chris Christie offered that he was probably "the most psychoanalyzed national political figure in the world,” which is likely to come as quite a surprise to virtually every national political figure in the world.

But the undisputed star of the show was Cuban American dreamboat Marco Rubio, who not only got to sit with the Romneys at breakfast but wowed everyone in the group when he threw on a pair of gym shorts and challenged the whole gang to game of touch football. According to one report, he "played offense the whole time, to show off his arm and avoid humiliating any millionaire campaign contributors with tough defense." His fellow players were very taken with him:

“There’s a little bit of a fierceness to him,” said Bill Hansen, who was in charge of Romney’s education policy group and is uncommitted in 2016. “It was a nice chance for people to get to know him and see the real him. In gym shorts.”

For evening entertainment they all got to listen to the man himself give Power Point presentations on what's wrong with President Obama's foreign policy. The scuttlebutt was that Romney was making a play for Secretary of State in a Republican administration but considering that chairing the Olympic Games and spending the Vietnam war as a missionary in Paris remains his only experience in that area it's hard to imagine that he'd be the first choice. But like all the other GOP sugar daddies, he expects a little something for his trouble and this sounds like it might be what he's looking for.

It's amazing that these people feel no shame in publicly supplicating themselves for these Big Money donors like a bunch of dancers auditioning to become Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. But they seem to really enjoy it. Whichever one wins the Romney donor party prize will obviously be perfectly happy to keep dancing to their tune if he or she makes it to the White House.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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