Rebekah Mercer: the reclusive Republican kingmaker

It’s been a tricky month for the “First Lady of the alt-right”, says The Washington Post. Put on the spot, in a way she usually adeptly avoids, by the vicious feuding at the White House, Rebekah Mercer had to choose sides. The Mercer family billions “laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution”.

Yet their ties with the president’s shunned former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, are much deeper. Nonetheless, Mercer backed power – even publicly rebuking Bannon, with whom “I have not communicated… in many months”.

Breaking with Bannon

The significance of this “public slap” can’t be underestimated. “Long before Trump stepped onto the campaign trail, the Mercer family and Bannon were drawing up schematics for an outsider populist presidential candidate who could topple the establishment… And now Trump, who fulfilled their hopes, has come between them.” The prime movers of the Mercer clan – Rebekah and her father Robert – still hold a stake in Breitbart News, which Bannon chaired, but their “once-close bond” has been “torched”.

The incident raises a perennial question about the rise of this singular “father-daughter duo” as Republican kingmakers, says The Atlantic. What is their motivation and what do they hope to achieve for the $36m they have pumped into GOP coffers since 2010?

When asked the question a year ago, even Bannon was “vague”.  Back then, he praised the “very middle-class values” of a family that “came to great wealth late in life”. That’s certainly true of the Mercer patriarch, Bob – a socially awkward, brilliant computer scientist, who prefers animals (notably owls and cats) to human beings, according to The Wall Street Journal.

For years now, however, the “face of the family” has been Bekah, the middle of Bob’s three daughters, who has quietly become “one of the most influential figures in American politics”, says Town & Country magazine. She sits on the boards of the many conservative think-tanks that the family funds, and also advised Trump, as president-elect, on cabinet appointments.

A “wacko” with a bakery

Thanks to her down-to-earth childhood in Westchester County, New York, Rebekah is no Marie Antoinette, says journalist and fellow traveller Amity Shlaes. “She understands what it means to make economic decisions.” Married to a French-born Morgan Stanley banker, with four children, Mercer lives in a $28m apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and lists her occupations as “entrepreneur and homemaker”, notes the Financial Times.

She co-owns “a bakery that makes crème brulee flavoured cookies”. But don’t be fooled by the fluffy connotations. Widely respected as “serious and smart”, she’s an “imposing 40-something recluse with a mathematics degree from Stanford”, sometimes described as “prickly”.

In his book Fire and Fury Michael Wolff writes that Trump considers the Mercers to be “wackos”, says the FT. “If so, they are his wackos for the time being. But it is clear that if Ms Mercer becomes displeased there will be consequences.” One Republican operative says the family seems more interested in accumulating general influence than pursuing any particular agenda. For now, there’s no gainsaying that. But a shadow looms. Mercer is doubtless monitoring the progress of the Mueller probe very closely.