BY Alex Altman
Robert and Rebekah Mercer have emerged as powerful players in Donald Trump’s campaign, not to mention the fight for the GOP’s future. What is it they want?
When Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination in Cleveland, some of the most powerful people in the party had a ticket to watch from Suite 245 in Quicken Loans Arena. Invited to the cushy skybox were financiers, real estate developers, a supermarket magnate and an ambassador. Hardly anyone knew it at the time, but the list also included a pair of political insiders who would soon take control of the Trump campaign: Kellyanne Conway, a consultant who had spent the GOP primary toiling for his top rival, and Steve Bannon, the boss of Breitbart News. Both were guests of a woman named Rebekah Mercer.
Bannon and Conway are hardly the only Republicans who rely on Mercer as a benefactor. To help pay for the convention, the family foundation Mercer runs wrote a $500,000 check–pocket change compared with the tens of millions of dollars it has showered on a sprawling web of conservative foundations, political networks and research institutions.That’s not counting the family’s reputed eight-figure investment in Breitbart, the house organ of the right-wing populist movement that fueled Trump’s ascent, and in Cambridge Analytica, a controversial data firm hired by a growing number of GOP candidates. Rebekah’s father Robert Mercer, a New York hedge-fund executive, has forked over more than $20 million in the 2016 election, which makes him the single largest Republican donor this cycle. Before the Mercers backed Trump, they bankrolled Texas Senator Ted Cruz through a family super PAC that employed Conway.
But the full scope of the Mercers’ clout wouldn’t be clear until a few weeks later, when Rebekah Mercer’s entourage took control of Trump’s campaign. Shortly after an August discussion with Mercer, Trump ousted his top operative, Paul Manafort, and installed Conway and Bannon as his new campaign manager and CEO. The younger Mercer assumed day-to-day control of the family’s new pro-Trump super PAC, replacing GOP activist and family ally David Bossie, who became Conway’s deputy. “They’ve bought their way in,” says a Trump ally. “The people in charge are all Mercer people.”
Over the course of the 2016 presidential contest, the Mercers have become two of the most pivotal and least understood behind-the-scenes players in American politics. Robert Mercer is a reclusive figure who has never spoken publicly about his political beliefs. Daughter Rebekah, a former Wall Street trader who runs an online gourmet-cookie company with her sisters, is described as the activist investor behind the family’s vast political concerns. Together they form a link between Trump’s campaign and super PAC, armed with the cash and clout to shape everything from his staff to his data operation to his super PAC strategy. “It’s hard to think of anybody like them,” says Larry Noble of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
Or to imagine this influence fading. Whether by molding Trump’s policies as President or battling for control of the shattered party he leaves behind, the Mercers are now outsize stakeholders in the future of the Grand Old Party. Which raises a question few Republicans are able to answer: What do the Mercers really want?