Kelly Knight Craft's cautious support of Trump pays off - Macleans.ca

Kelly Knight Craft’s cautious support of Trump pays off

Trump has tapped Republican fundraiser Kelly Knight Craft to be America’s new Ambassador to Canada. Here’s what we know about her so far.

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The Embassy of the United States of America in Ottawa, Ont., on July 4, 2016. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

The Embassy of the United States of America in Ottawa, Ont., on July 4, 2016. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

Canada has a new U.S. Ambassador, and it’s not Sarah Palin, as an entertaining but not terribly credible rumour held over the last few weeks. Instead, Kelly Knight Craft, a wealthy Republican fundraiser from Kentucky, has accepted President Donald Trump’s offer—barring any issues during the vetting process—to take up the post in Ottawa, according to Bloomberg News.

She lives in Lexington with her husband, Joe Craft, a billionaire and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, which produces and markets coal. She has served as finance chair for the Republican Party of Kentucky, where she raised money for politicians including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with whom she maintains close ties.

Knight Craft’s late father, a veterinarian named Bobby Guilfoil, was prominent in local Democratic politics and famous for hosting an annual pig roast and party gathering at his house. Knight Craft explained to the newspaper in her tiny hometown of Glasgow, Ky. that her parents had imparted values and a sense of independence that led her to develop her own political identity as a Republican. “That’s just the way I was raised,” she said in 2007. “I just kind of evolved in my philosophy.”

She became involved in politics during the 2004 presidential race, when she raised enough funds—leveraging her experience drumming up dollars for civic causes—for the Bush-Cheney campaign to earn the designation of “Pioneer,” the top tier of contributors.

In 2007, Knight Craft was running an eponymous marketing and strategic management consulting firm when she was nominated by President George W. Bush as an alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She declared her priorities in the position would be children’s issues—especially the health problems of children in poverty and living in Appalachia—and social, humanitarian and cultural concerns. She and her husband later co-chaired the Kentucky finance committee for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in the 2012 election.

Last summer, the couple met with Trump at Trump Tower and then announced they were supporting his presidential bid. They said publicly that a big factor was his assurance that he would not replace McConnell as Senate majority leader or House Speaker Paul Ryan. At the time, Trump was embroiled in a very public clash with Ryan and his pledge to donors like the Crafts was seen as necessary reassurance that he wouldn’t burn the party establishment to the ground. “That is a big priority for Joe and I,” Knight Craft told Bloomberg news, of her support for McConnell and Ryan. “And from talking directly to Donald Trump, I know for a fact it is a big deal to him.”

Since last summer, of course, the balance of power has turned upside-down; Ryan has been brought to heel and done an about-face on his refusal to support Trump. Knight Craft and her husband ended up serving on the Trump Victory Committee, a group of influential Republicans.

Yet even as she announced her support for the eventual Republican nominee and president, she said she was aware that hitching her name to Trump’s meant signing her own reputation as collateral. “When someone gives us a check, we’re looking at that as they’re investing not only in that candidate—investing in Paul Ryan or investing in Mitch McConnell or investing in Donald Trump—they’re investing in us, and I take that as a responsibility,” she told Bloomberg. “I don’t take that lightly. We feel responsible to them.”

As long as she doesn’t mind the cold Ottawa winters and shortage of race horses, it looks like Knight Craft’s support of the new president—cautious as it was to begin with—has paid off.