How to make sense of the relationship between Robert Kraft and Donald Trump?
On Wednesday afternoon, Kraft stood on the South Lawn of the White House, heaping praise upon a president who is the antithesis of much the owner of the New England Patriots stands for.
He spoke of Donald Trump’s resilience and his work ethic, drawing parallels between the president’s win and the Patriots’ come-from-
behind victory in this year’s Super Bowl.
“It’s a distinct honor for us to celebrate what was unequivocally our sweetest championship with a very good friend and somebody whose mental toughness and strength I greatly admire,’’ said Kraft, who also donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.
Over the years, Kraft, taking up the mantle of his late wife, Myra, has funded efforts to improve the lives of many people who are now terrified in Trump’s America. He has helped expand access to health care; funded services for refugees and immigrants, including Muslims; supported arts organizations, and institutes for Jewish studies and inter-religious understanding; championed gay, lesbian, and transgender rights; and backed programs to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. Kraft’s support goes beyond money: He actually shows up.
And now Kraft is closely and publicly tethered to a president who has demonized immigrants and Muslims, endangered the health insurance of 24 million people, emboldened racists and anti-Semites, and boasted of his own sexually predatory behavior. For some who thought they knew what Kraft stood for, including some of the people working on the causes he supports, that has been unsettling.
What gives? Through a spokesman, Kraft declined an interview request. But his son Josh was happy to explain. “It’s pretty simple,” said Josh Kraft, who heads the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. “They’ve been friends for years. The worst time in my dad’s life, this guy was there for him.” After Myra died in 2011, Robert was devastated. Trump traveled up here to be with him, and called Kraft constantly for a year after that, checking on him.
“Friendship trumps politics, for lack of a better term,” Josh Kraft said. “You might not agree with what your friend believes, but why let that ruin a friendship?”
It’s clear that although Robert Kraft disagrees with Trump on some things, he doesn’t see him as the disaster for women, minorities, immigrants, and poor Americans that many others do, including me. To my eye, this isn’t just a friendship between people on different sides of the aisle: Trump isn’t Jeb Bush, or Mitt Romney. He has said and done inexcusable, dangerous things, as a candidate and president. But clearly, his old friend views him through another lens. He might even think he can moderate Trump’s extremism.
“Maybe even, when the time is right, he can share some of his insights with [Trump],” Josh Kraft said.
It is admirable that Trump was supportive in Bob Kraft’s darkest hours. But it seems like Trump has the better end of the bargain now. During the campaign, he repeatedly bathed in the football team’s glow, touting support from Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on the trail.
On Wednesday, he was at it again, turning the Pats visit into another glory-grubbing campaign rally. “Whether you’re trying to win a Super Bowl or rebuild our country, as Coach Belichick would say, there are no days off,” Trump said. He whacked the pundits who had written off the Patriots — the same pundits, you know, who wrote off Trump himself and continue to highlight his grave flaws. And for the eleventieth time, he spoke of the glowing letter Belichick had written to him before the New Hampshire primary.
Blech. Kraft’s relationship with Trump may be purely personal, but the president keeps making it utterly political.
Whether Kraft agrees with him or not, he is helping to advance Trump’s fortunes, and thus his destructive agenda. In so doing, Kraft imperils an important piece of his own legacy.