Billionaires, tech CEOs and top members of the Republican establishment flew to a private island resort off the coast of Georgia this weekend for the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum, according to sources familiar with the secretive gathering.
The main topic at the closed-to-the-press confab? How to stop Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google co-founder Larry Page, Napster creator and Facebook investor Sean Parker, and Tesla Motors and SpaceX honcho Elon Musk all attended. So did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), political guru Karl Rove, House Speaker Paul Ryan, GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Ben Sasse (Neb.), who recently made news by saying he “cannot support Donald Trump.”
Along with Ryan, the House was represented by Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (Mich.), Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) and almost-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), sources said, along with leadership figure Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Diane Black (Tenn.).
Philip Anschutz, the billionaire GOP donor whose company owns a stake in Sea Island, was also there, along with Democratic Rep. John Delaney, who represents Maryland. Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, was there, too, a Times spokeswoman confirmed.
“A specter was haunting the World Forum–the specter of Donald Trump,” Kristol wrote in an emailed report from the conference, borrowing the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto. “There was much unhappiness about his emergence, a good deal of talk, some of it insightful and thoughtful, about why he’s done so well, and many expressions of hope that he would be defeated.”
“The key task now, to once again paraphrase Karl Marx, is less to understand Trump than to stop him,” Kristol wrote. “In general, there’s a little too much hand-wringing, brow-furrowing, and fatalism out there and not quite enough resolving to save the party from nominating or the country electing someone who simply shouldn’t be president.”
A highlight of the gathering was a presentation by Rove about focus group findings on Trump. The business mogul’s greatest weakness, according to Rove, was that voters have a very hard time envisioning him as “presidential” and as somebody their children should look up to. They also see him as somebody who can be erratic and shouldn’t have his (small) fingers anywhere near a nuclear trigger.
Sources familiar with the meeting — who requested anonymity because the forum is off the record — said that much of the conversation around Trump centered on “how this happened, rather than how are we going to stop him,” as one person put it.
Trump, who already has nearly one-third of the delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination, faces major tests in the Florida and Ohio primaries next week. If he wins both those states, he will need to win just half of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination. source