Robert Mercer is a little-known hedge-fund billionaire who, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a key role first in making Trump a candidate, and then in shaping his White House staff. Jane Mayer is the first to file an in-depth report on the elusive figure. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of several award-winning and bestselling books. Her latest, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, was named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times—it’s out now in paperback. This interview has been edited and condensed; listen to the full interview on the Start Making Sense podcast.
Jon Wiener: To do this story you spoke with the prince of darkness himself, Stephen Bannon. What was that like, and what did he tell you about Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah?
Jane Mayer: I was on the edge of my seat to see what Bannon was like, pacing around and waiting for him to call. Finally he did. He turns out to be quite engaging and a lot of fun to talk to. He said the Mercers had launched the Trump revolution, and that, more than any other donor in the last four years, they had the biggest impact of anyone in putting Trump in power. He was pretty up front about the whole thing.
JW: You say Bannon was a lot of fun to talk to. Is Robert Mercer a lot of fun to talk to?
JM: Robert Mercer wouldn’t speak with me, and that’s not unusual. He doesn’t speak almost to anyone. I quote someone who said that he prefers the company of cats to humans.
JW: You say he heads an incredibly lucrative hedge fund. Who exactly is Robert Mercer, and how rich is he?
JM: He is the co-CEO with one other man of something called Renaissance Technologies. It’s hard to know exactly how rich he is, but he is listed by Institutional Investor as making approximately $135 million a year, and that would have been true for at least the last 10 years or so. He’s getting up there in the billionaire category, I would think.
That enabled him, and his family, to indulge any kind of whim they had. One of the things that he wanted to buy, and that his middle daughter Rebekah wanted to buy, was an America that more closely fitted their political point of view. So they poured money into that project.
JW: Let’s talk about that political project. You say Robert Mercer basically never speaks, nevertheless you were able to find out quite a lot about his political ideas. What does Robert Mercer say about racism in the United States?
JM: He believes that white racism doesn’t exist in America. He says there’s only black racism. He says that the civil-rights movement has made blacks less well off. He thinks that the Civil Rights Act was one of the great mistakes in modern American history.