When historians work out the details of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, the most important date is likely not to be October 28th — when FBI Director Comey announced he had reopened the Hillary Clinton email kerfuffle — but August 19th when Paul Manafort resigned as Trump campaign director. While Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon replaced Manafort, the real change happened behind the scene when reclusive billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, took control of the Trump campaign.
Who are Robert and Rebekah Mercer? What does their ascendancy mean for the Trump Administration?
70-year-old Robert Mercer is a computer scientist famed for his research in machine-translation algorithms. In 1993 Robert joined Long-Island-based Renaissance Technologies, which became the most successful quantitative hedge fund; Mercer is now its co-CEO. Recently Robert was identified as the largest Republican donor in the 2016 presidential contest. His political giving is directed by his 42-year-old daughter, Rebekah.
Before the Mercers took over the Trump campaign, they funded the unsuccessful presidential bid of Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz suspended his campaign on May 3rd, after losing the Indiana primary, and lost the favor of the Mercers with his July 20th “vote your conscience speech” at the Republican convention. The Mercers renamed their superPAC “Make America Number 1” and shifted its focus to Trump. By election day they had invested more than $15.5 million in the superPAC.
The Mercer’s enormous investments in Cruz and Trump reflect the ultra-conservative philosophy of Robert and Rebekah, and give us a good idea of what to expect from the Trump administration.
1. Contempt for Washington. The Mercers believe Washington is corrupt and look down on most Washington politicians (and the “coastal elites”). It’s no accident that both Cruz and Trump campaigned as outsiders who would “drain the swamp.”
2. Radical tax reform: Cruz urged scrapping the current tax system and replacing it with a national flat tax augmented by a sales tax. Trump has called for radical simplification of the tax system and reducing corporate taxes to 15 percent. (The Mercers favored eliminating certain tax laws that pertain to hedge funds.) Under the Trump Administration look for a return to “trickle-down economics” with massive tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich and powerful.
3. Entitlement reform: Cruz called for replacing the current Social Security scheme with a private system similar to that proposed by President George W. Bush. Both Cruz and Trump have called for scrapping Obamacare and making fundamental changes to Medicare. With massive tax cuts there will be massive deficits unless there are reductions in federal spending.
4. Reduction of discretionary spending: Cruz called for the elimination of the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, plus the Internal Revenue Service. Trump seems open to such changes and has called for the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency.
5. Immigration Reform: Trump and Cruz took a very hard line on immigration. Trump continues to call for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border and deportation of undocumented immigrants. (The sweep of Trump’s deportation initiative is TBD.)
6. Islamophobia: Trump famously advocated blocking all Muslims from entering the country. Rebekah Mercer is known to be a supporter of Lt. General Mike Flynn, who was recently appointed Trump’s National Security Adviser. Flynn has argued, “Islam is a political ideology.” There’s a strong strain of Islamophobia among Mercer advocates and it’s likely Trump will push for a national Muslim registry.
7. Interventionist Foreign Policy: In addition to supporting Lt. General Mike Flynn, Rebekah Mercer is known to be a strong advocate of (former Bush Administration Ambassador to the United Nations) John Bolton. Like Trump and Flynn, Bolton sees Islam as an existential threat. Bolton is an advocate of an interventionist foreign policy. Recently, he wrote (https://www.aei.org/publication/next-presidents-foreign-policy-priorities/): “The prospect that terrorists could receive weapons of mass destruction risks the perfect storm of more 9/11s but with far more tragic consequences. Moving vigorously to eliminate the rising proliferation tidal wave will either be the hallmark of Trump’s presidency — or possibly its epitaph.” Following Flynn and Bolton’s advice, Trump will likely attempt to cancel the Iran nuclear agreement and be more confrontational with China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
8. Climate Change: Trump has called global climate change “a hoax.” Politico reports that the Mercers “have given at least $1.4 million to organizations that cast doubt on climate change science.” (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/rebekah-mercer-donald-trump-231693). Look for Trump to back away from Global Climate Change agreements and to suspend climate-change-related research and regulations.
9. The Press: Robert and Rebekah Mercer have waged war on the mainstream media. The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/09/13/inside-the-mercers-diy-media-empire.html) reported that “From 2008 to 2014, the [Mercer] foundation gave millions to groups looking to change American media.” Among these donations was $7.5 million to the Media Research Council — which generated the “Clinton Cash” book and movie — and $10 million to Breitbart News (http://www.newsweek.com/2016/12/02/robert-mercer-trump-donor-bannon-pac-523366.html). Look for Trump to insulate his Administration from the mainstream media and to favor ultra-conservative outlets such as Breitbart.
10. White Supremacy: According to the New Yorker magazine, (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/kellyanne-conways-political-machinations) since 2011, top-Trump-insider Steve Bannon “has served a political adviser to the Mercers.” The New Yorker article describes Bannon as “the poser child for [the] white, nationalistic, alt-right world view.” Look for the Trump Administration to continue to curry favor with white supremacists.
Expect the worst from Trump/Mercer.