Donald Trump’s top donors are now backing an InfoWars-approved challenger to Sen. John McCain—a Tea Partier who blames the former prisoner of war for the rise of ISIS and who once held a town hall on chemtrails.
Robert and Rebekah Mercer—the father-daughter duo spending millions to boost right-wing candidates—have substantial clout in the Trump campaign. While most Republican mega-donors have stayed away from Trump, Mercer and Co. are all in for him.
And now, they’re sharing the love, spending big to boost McCain’s conspiratorially minded primary challenger, state Sen. Kelli Ward.
Mercer and McCain, by the way, have a history. Mercer is a hedge fund billionaire, and McCain once ripped his fund, Renaissance Technologies, for avoiding a massive tax bill. The Arizona senator was the ranking member of a Senate subcommittee that investigated the hedge fund, criticizing it pointedly at a hearing on July 22, 2014 where he singled it out for “potentially avoiding over $6 billion in taxes.”
By backing Ward’s super PAC, Mercer has found an easy way to be a thorn in the side of his old foe. FEC filings show that Robert Mercer and his wife, Diana, gave $200,000 to the super PAC backing her, KelliPAC, on July 22 of this year. Poiltico, which flagged the filing, noted that the contribution was a game-changer for Ward, enabling the super PAC to air an attack ad saying McCain spent his career “cheerleading for the other team.”
And Ward is pumped.
“I know that we’re getting a lot more recognition than we might have in other times,” Ward told The Daily Beast. “The aura of imperviousness that the establishment has needs to be punctured. I can’t find people that are really excited about voting for John McCain. I’m always trying to convert them over to Kelli Ward.”
Ward, meanwhile, is spending at least some of her time appearing on InfoWars, the hub for the tinfoil-hat crowd. On March 23, she did an interview with InfoWars chief Alex Jones on his radio show, and said she worried McCain would have her killed.
“I just want you to watch your back because that guy is just such a gangster,” Jones told her, as the Arizona Republic noted.
“Yes, you know, I’ve had people who have told me that I should get an auto starter on my car, that I should never be starting my own car,” she replied. “I really hope things haven’t gotten that far out of control that I should be fearful for my life. But we are very cautious and I always have people around me who are providing security, which is great.”
And in a June 18 interview at a Trump rally, she told InfoWars that McCain “is directly responsible for the rise of ISIS.”
“I’m not misspeaking,” she added. “I’m telling you the truth.”
Then the interviewer asked her what she would do to deter illegal immigration.
“I’m ready to mix the mortar to fix the border!” she replied.
She repeated the line at a Citizens for Trump rally in Cleveland, where she warmed up the crowd for Roger Stone and, of course, Alex Jones.
InfoWars, by the way, has an interesting history when it comes to covering Arizona politics. After the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords, for instance, it suggested the attack could have been due to a government conspiracy.
“[I]t is entirely possible this was a false-flag event designed to clampdown on gun ownership or simply stoke the fear of radical Muslim or homegrown terrorists,” the site reported.
A McCain campaign spokesperson said they aren’t worried about Ward’s newfound Mercer money.
“KelliPAC’s last-minute infusion of out-of-state cash—something she has hypocritically decried—doesn’t change the fact that she spent taxpayer dollars to explore conspiracy theories, and her positions on key national security issues would weaken our military and put Arizonans at risk,” said Lorna Romero of the campaign.
InfoWars personalities aren’t the only fringey characters Ward has courted. On Aug. 5, she called a self-avowed white supremacist and asked for campaign cash.
Using a list of Trump donors, according to her communications director Stephen Sebastian, she ended up on the opposite end of the receiver from William Johnson of the white nationalist American Freedom Party.
“On Friday, I got a call for Dr. Kelli Ward seeking my support,” Johnson told The Daily Beast at the time. “I told her I would support her financially, but she needs to understand that I am a white nationalist. She said, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ which sounded like a ‘I like you as a friend’ response in the dating context.”
Sebastian said Ward promptly disavowed Johnson when she learned he was a white supremacist.
“When Dr. Ward called through that list,” Sebastian said, referring to a Trump donor list that had Johnson’s name on it (the campaign later returned his money), “Mr. Johnson voluntarily identified himself as a white nationalist, prompting Dr. Ward to explicitly decline his support and disagree with his views. Dr. Ward and her multiracial family have no tolerance for racism of any kind. Only a troglodyte would suggest otherwise.”
Johnson said he didn’t contribute to her campaign, and didn’t get a follow-up call from her.
Thanks to the Mercers, Ward’s backers have gotten a jolt of financial juice. Like Ward, the Mercers are devoted Trump supporters. They played a key role in the latest Trump campaign shake-up, as The Hill reported, and have outsize influence on campaign operations.
On the Arizona level, Ward and the Mercers are both friendly with the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Phoenix. Rebekah Mercer, Robert Mercer’s daughter, is on its board of directors. And Ward has supported a number of Goldwater-favored efforts. Like Ward, the think tank has a messy relationship with McCain. During a fight over a hockey team, AZCentral.com reported that McCain called the think tank “an unelected group of fat cats” who represent “nobody except maybe some very wealthy donors.”
Back in 2013, Laura Ingraham criticized McCain in a speech she gave at the Goldwater Institute’s 25th anniversary gala. Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife, then sarcastically tweeted that the talk radio host is a “class act!”
Over the course of his campaign, McCain has staunchly refused to un-endorse Trump.
Trump’s top allies—evidenced by the check they cut to Ward’s super PAC—are unwilling to return the favor.