Mitt Romney has practically tattooed “Never Trump” across his forehead, denouncing the reality television star in speeches and interviews for months. His one-time running mate Paul Ryan, meanwhile, has been a leader of the GOP’s larger “Fine, OK, Trump” faction, insisting that the presumptive nominee’s racist remarks don’t change the fact that he is not Hillary Clinton. While there are no indications that Ryan and Romney have directly addressed their disagreement about how Republicans should proceed, both 2012 candidates did defend their stances this weekend at Romney’s annual Experts and Enthusiasts Summit (“E2”) in Park City, Utah, an off-the-record event for conservative business leaders, donors, and politicians. According to three anonymous attendees who spoke to the Washington Post, many in the audience “grilled” Ryan about his support for Trump.
The Post reports that Ryan appeared “uncomfortable” after Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor and moderator of the discussion, told the House speaker that her young son was “dismayed” by his support for Trump. Most colorfully, Hewlett-Packard CEO and Romney friend Meg Whitman reportedly compared the presumptive nominee to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, asking Ryan “how he could endorse someone with, in her judgment, such poor character.” From the Post:
Ryan explained the difficult political situation he was in, as the leader of House Republicans. While spending a couple of weeks last month deliberating about an endorsement, many of his members increased pressure on him to back Trump. Many of them represent districts where Republican voters are strongly supportive of Trump, Ryan explained.
What Ryan didn’t say, but pretty clearly seems to believe, is that he’s more afraid of losing the support of other Republicans in the House than he is of what Trump could do as president. NBC News did speak with three anonymous attendees who elaborated that Ryan said he endorsed Trump to respect both party unity and voters’ will.
On Saturday, Romney took the stage and spent his speech excoriating Trump and the Republicans who have not stopped him. CNN reports that Romney, in a discussion with Wolf Blitzer, seemed to tear up as he said the GOP’s fortunes are “breaking [his] heart.” In the same conversation, the former Massachusetts governor reportedly called out Ted Cruz and John Kasich by name for their failures in the Republican primary. “Ted Cruz was basically praising Donald Trump through the whole process,” Romney said, adding that “[Kasich] was in [the race] well after the time there was no possible pathway to becoming the nominee.”
Romney conceded, though, that he understands why many conservatives will vote for Trump, even if he cannot. “If your No. 1 concern is the Supreme Court, that’s why you vote for Donald Trump,” Romney said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “Because he’s more likely to appoint people who will defend the Second Amendment and other parts of the Constitution we feel is important.” He added that he will not vote for Clinton, but may write in a different candidate or vote for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.
According to CNN, Romney didn’t reserve his criticism for his fellow Republicans. “Bill Clinton’s dalliances in the White House affected the sexual inclinations and practices of a generation, and probably beyond,” Romney reportedly said, explaining that the stakes of a presidential election go beyond mere politics.