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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump's big money wackos

by digby

I wrote about the Mercers for Salon this morning:

Perhaps the most unnerving aspect of Donald Trump's victory is watching the media immediately mainstream his white nationalist lieutenant, former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon whom he appointed as White House strategist. It's not a symbolic position; in previous administrations it was held by the likes of Karl Rove. According to KellyAnne Conway, Bannon is a "brillian tactician" and  the "general" who ran the winning campaign so he will have immense power. This is an amazing turn of events. A man who was fringe player on the far, far right a year ago is the new president's Razputin.

Ken Blackwell, Ohio's notorious former secretary of state and member of the Trump transition team described the division of labor between RNC chair Reince Preibus, the new chief of staff, and Bannon this way:
“Bannon is going to be keeper of the image of Trump as a fighter against the status quo, and Reince is going to utilize his personal connections with the speaker and others, to make the trains run on time.
Yes, he actually used the phrase "make the trains run on time." The only good part of that is that he was referring to Preibus the colorless bureaucrat not Bannon the white nationalist. (Actually, after consulting Hannah Arendt on the banality of evil, I remembered there isn't much difference between the two under the right circumstances.)

There has been a lot written about Bannon in the last few days but the gold standard piece about him is this one from last summer by Bloomberg's Joshua Green presciently headlined, This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America.  It's a scary look at a very scary man. And now that scary man has a tremendous amount of power.

There are dozens of facets to the Bannon story worth looking at in depth, but one project was particularly important to the election of Donald Trump. Breitbart media surely played its part, but it was his blandly named "Government Accountability Institute" (GAI) that really did the job which Green describes as a non-profit organization designed to create indictments against major politicians to partner with mainstream media like the New York Times and the Washington Post to achieve wide dissemination. Its main contribution to the 2016 campaign was a bestseller by GAI’s president, a right wing propagandist named Peter Schweizer, called "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich" which I wrote about for Salon here. The mainstream press cooperated eagerly and the book created the framework for the "Crooked Hillary" theme that dominated the campaign.

It's interesting that after years of following big shot right wing donors like the Koch brothers that a new day has dawned in Republican politics when it comes to the big money. The influence of these deep pockets  billionaires are surely still being felt in politics around the country, but Trump is not one of their creatures.
Still there is one pair of super donors in the Trump inner circle and they just happens to be in Steven Bannon's inner circle as well: hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.

And while the likes of the Kochs and  Sheldon Adelson are far right menaces, the Kochs being libertaian ideologues and Adelson being singularly focused on the the issues of Israel and his own gambling empire, the Mercers are something else entirely. They are fringe kooks with a vast fortune and a willingness to back other fringe kooks like Steve Bannon. Rebekah Mercer was a director of his GAI propaganda outfit and the family has heavily funded Breitbart.

Both Mercers have spent tens of millions on various right wing candidates and institutions in recent years including establishment organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. In the primary they backed Ted Cruz with the Keep the Promise SuperPAC  and later the "Defeat Crooked Hillary" Super PAC both of which first employed KellyAnne Conway and David Bossie who later joined the Trump campaign with Steve Bannon, reportedly at Rebekah Mercer's urging. 

According to this fascinating profile by Bloomberg's Zachary Mider, Robert Mercer is an extremely eccentric character, a machine gun collecting computer genius who made his billions relatively late in life when he was hired by the Renaissance hedge fund to "crunch market data and spot patterns a human trader would overlook."  He was extremely successful there and became CEO in 2009 with another "quant" who had come to the fund with him from IBM.

He may be a genius, but when it comes to politics he more closely resembles tin-foil hat conspiracy nuts like Alex Jones. Indeed, it's hard to find a fringe scientific theory he hasn't thrown money at, from climate change denial to conferences that feature speakers presenting "evidence" that HIV does not cause AIDS and that the disease is an elaborate government coverup of the health risks of "the homosexual lifestyle."

He's also put a lot of money into groups promoting far right economic theories including the weird idea that "fractional reserve banking", which is simply what banks have always done --- lend their depositors money to others --- is a massive fraud and a ponzi scheme.  He is also a huge proponent of a return to the gold standard, of course.

These are just the tip of weirdness iceberg. Looking at the long list of crazy stuff that Robert Mercer is involved with, it seems that he believes everything he reads or hears from right wing kooks. And con men and grifters see him coming a mile away. Indeed, he and his daughter seem to be financing pretty much every far right fringe organization and wacky theorist in America, from white nationalists to climate deniers. So naturally, they are major backers of our new fringe President-elect, Donald Trump.

How much influence they will have remains to be seen. But Rebekah Mercer was named last week to Trump's transition team and one of their closest associates has just been named the White House chief strategist so their wacky ideas will certainly get a hearing in the oval office.