Robert Mercer: The Billionaire Behind Donald Trump10:43
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President-elect Donald Trump gestures toward reporters as he arrives for a party at the home of Robert Mercer, one of his biggest campaign donors, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Head of the Harbor, N.Y. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President-elect Donald Trump gestures toward reporters as he arrives for a party at the home of Robert Mercer, one of his biggest campaign donors, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Head of the Harbor, N.Y. (Evan Vucci/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

Robert Mercer is a hedge-fund billionaire who many consider President Trump's most important donor, and he has many eccentric views.

The New Yorker reports that he has said that African Americans were better off economically before the civil rights movement, and also that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II may have made some Japanese, who lived outside of the initial blast zones, healthier.

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, who has written about the Mercer family.

Interview Highlights

On who Robert Mercer is

"He is described as really something of a computer and math genius. He's now 70 years old, but he has been behind a couple breakthroughs in the computer world. The first one was figuring out how to translate language on computers, so it was the beginning of Google's translation programs and some of the things that brought us things like Siri. After that, he figured out how to use computers to take masses of data in the stock market and boil them down in ways that would help predict where the market's going, so that his firm, Renaissance Technologies, could make extra-smart trades. In many ways, they have outsmarted the stock market, and the place is just minting billions of dollars."

On Citizen's United and Mercer's political donations

"They've been able to do it much more since the Citizen's United decision from the Supreme Court in 2010. Bob Mercer happens to be especially successful at it recently because he invested in a number of ways and a number of projects that really, behind the scenes, helped launch Trump. That is a statement that was made by Steve Bannon to me in the story, 'No other donor has come close to the impact that the Mercer family has had in building the foundation for' — what he calls — 'the Trump revolution.’"

"If you take a look at Bob Mercer's politics, he is way out on the far-right fringe of America. He believes that he should be able to use his fortune to try to impose his views on the country."

Jane Mayer

On how the Mercer family invests

"In addition to putting $22.5 million just into campaigns in 2016, including the Trump campaign, what the Mercer family did was kind of a longer-view investment in companies and organizations that were trying to undermine the mainstream media. So they invested in Breitbart News, and they also invested in and started something called the Government Accountability Institute. What it did was it dug up dirt on political figures that they didn't like, including Hillary Clinton. It produced a book that became a major best-seller called ‘The Clinton Cash.’ The Government Accountability Institute succeeded in giving a copy of it to The New York Times early, which took that exclusive access to turn it into a front page story, which gave credibility to the whole idea that Hillary Clinton was a corrupt figure.

"I think probably some of the claims are true. Sometimes you can have a slant. That doesn't mean that the story is completely wrong, but it may be lacking context. For instance, the Clintons may have done things, she may have definitely given those speeches to Goldman Sachs. But when you take a look at what Trump was doing, well, we now have a government that's filled with people who worked at Goldman Sachs. So does that make her especially corrupt? There's a question of context that's missing."

On Mercer's political ideology

"If you take a look at Bob Mercer's politics, he is way out on the far-right fringe of America. He believes that he should be able to use his fortune to try to impose his views on the country.”

"My questions coming into this story were — I knew that the Mercers had a tremendous amount of influence. But they don't give interviews. So, my question going into this was, ‘Who are these people? And what do they really believe? And what kinds of places are they trying to take America?’ What he thinks is extraordinary. It's the first time I've ever come across anyone who has been arguing that the nuclear bombs dropped on the Japanese in World War II were actually, in some ways, healthy for the Japanese because the radiation from it outside of the blast zone, he believes was good for the Japanese. It's not a position that the National Academy of Sciences, for instance, backs up. You hear many people with big money, particular fossil fuel industry people, who will say that global warming is not really happening or that people are not really causing it. He endorses that point of view too. But he takes it to a further extreme and suggests that global warming is really great for everybody and that plant life and animal life are going to be better off. Again, it's a position that you just don't find much scientific support for. Bob Mercer supports the financial support for the scientist who is pushing these points of view."

On how the Mercers benefitted from backing Trump

"You don't have to take it from me as a reporter, though I did try very hard to be very factual in this piece. Take a listen to what the people who work with Bob Mercer say about that. David Magerman says Bob Mercer invested in Trump and he now owns a sizable piece of the Trump presidency. There are other people quoted who say they bought themselves seats on the transition team by putting so much money in. So you had Rebecca Mercer on the Trump transition team, and she then recommended various hires — Michael Flynn to be the national security adviser, and of course, he briefly was until he got in trouble and got fired. She also pushed very hard for Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, and that one did work."

On what Bob Mercer recognized about the electorate in the 2016 election

"What they knew early on was that there was this growing populist anger in the country against elites. They were seeing early polling as far back as 2012 showing this. When the Mercers were thinking about which candidates to back, they were cognizant that this growing populist anger was going to be a real phenomenon in 2016.

"I think there's an irony in the idea that you've got a man like Bob Mercer who makes $135 million a year, according to Institutional Investor, who is looking at polling that says the public is getting mad at the idea that the rich are getting away with murder. He's thinking, ‘OK, well, I need to find a candidate who's going to capture that anger.’ And the candidate that spoke to him first was Ted Cruz. When Cruz fell apart as a candidate, they moved to Trump, who was very much speaking in the language of populism. It was a potent kind of message. It was the message that the polling said would be potent, and it was."

This segment aired on March 30, 2017.

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