The security guards were done up as Hell’s Angels. Kellyanne Conway was wearing a Superwoman suit. And as then-President-elect Trump slipped out of an SUV onto the grounds of a Long Island estate in December 2016, a gaudy “Villains and Heroes”-themed costume party swirling around him, the press pool reportedly asked the next president who he was dressed as.
Trump — wearing his standard-issue baggy suit and long tie — pointed a figure at himself. “Me,” he mouthed. Party-going is not normally a top priority for a president-elect in the middle of a transition. But Trump was not calling on just anyone.
The fete was thrown by Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire turned conservative donor who, along with his daughter Rebekah, had played a key role in Trump’s White House run. As The Washington Post’s Matea Gold reported last year, the Mercers have given at least $36.6 million to GOP candidates and super PACs since 2010.
The family had also poured money into Breitbart News, the populist platform previously run by Stephen K. Bannon before he took over Trump’s campaign. The strategist was also at the December party. Bannon’s planning and Mercer’s money were among the key drivers of Trump’s success. Trump, Mercer and Bannon were enjoying a moment of victory.
“The Mercers laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution,” Bannon himself told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer last March. “Irrefutably, when you look at the donors during the past four years, they have had the single biggest impact of anybody, including the Kochs.”
But the once-close bond between candidate, strategist and mega-donors was torched this week. On Wednesday, excerpts of Michael Wolff’s new book on the administration hit the news cycle, including explosive comments Bannon reportedly made about Trump’s family.
The president responded with a blistering attack on his former adviser, who left the White House last August and returned to Breitbart News as chairman. “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” the president said Wednesday. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Thursday night he called Bannon “Sloppy Steve” in a tweet.
The riff between the two deepened Thursday, when the notoriously press-shy Rebekah Mercer — who Newsmax Media owner Christopher Ruddy has admiringly called “the First Lady of the alt-right” — publicly rebuked Bannon and stood by the president in a statement. “I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected,” Mercer said. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”