Craft touts Trump ties in possible preview of bid for gov

Former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft lavished praise on former President Donald Trump, waded into culture politics and took a swipe at Kentucky’s Democratic governor for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in a speech Friday night that could preview a run for governor in 2023.

Craft, a longtime GOP activist, was keynote speaker at a Republican dinner in Marshall County on the eve of the Fancy Farm picnic — the state’s premiere political event. It gave her a prime opportunity to make an impression on the GOP faithful who gathered for the festivities in western Kentucky.

Though the governor’s election is two years away, considerable jockeying is well under way among Republicans lining up for a possible chance to try to unseat Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Craft is among several prominent Republicans seen as weighing a possible run. State Auditor Mike Harmon already announced he’s in the race, and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles is seen as another potential GOP gubernatorial candidate. Other Republicans could jump into the campaign, given the GOP’s growing dominance across the Bluegrass State.

In her speech, Craft touted her role as a diplomat and thanked Trump, who nominated her for her stint as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations. She previously served as U.S. ambassador to Canada.

“President Trump gave me, a lifelong Kentuckian, the opportunity of a lifetime, allowing me to demonstrate to the world the Bluegrass values that guide you and me every day,” she said, according to a transcript of her remarks. “I am grateful to Donald Trump.”

Trump easily carried Kentucky in his run for the White House in 2016 and his failed reelection campaign in 2020, and continues to hold sway among Kentucky Republicans.

“Whatever may or will be said about him, for four years he brought America, the United States, our country back to being the real business of American public life,” Craft said of Trump. “He reasserted the vital element of our national destiny: that America’s values are what made America.”

Following the script from the Trump political playbook, Craft touted American exceptionalism and plunged into the culture wars, referring to critical race theory as “destructive” and something that “does not belong in our schools.”

“And today in our schools and universities, in some of our largest corporations and communications empires, all focus on America’s faults,” Craft said. “To them, the one country in the world that is the first choice of immigrants of every nation, creed and color is ‘systemically racist.’”

“The ‘woke’ brigade despises America and America’s history and America’s heroes,” she said, adding: “Here in Kentucky, we don’t accept any of that.”

She took a swipe at Beshear, without mentioning him by name, for the virus-related restrictions he ordered to combat the spread of COVID-19. She said that “under the cover of this pandemic” he was “shrinking our freedoms and assuming a greater and greater control over how we live.”

Beshear lifted pandemic-related restrictions on businesses and gatherings in June. Kentucky has had fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths than some of its neighboring states, which took a less aggressive approach, and Beshear has said his tactics saved lives. The governor says Kentucky’s economy has rebounded and is now surging.

If Craft enters the Kentucky gubernatorial race, she would have the advantage of being able to tap into her family’s wealth to bankroll her campaign.

She didn’t tip her hand about her political intentions but said her diplomatic experience prepared her for whatever is next.

“I don’t have any regrets about jumping into the real arena,” she said. “Sitting behind the placard that reads UNITED STATES, protecting America’s taxpayers, Kentucky’s taxpayers, demanding transparency and accountability. It will make me stronger for my future that I did.”

And while traveling the globe as a diplomat, she said she realized again that “you may leave Kentucky for a little while, but Kentucky never leaves you.”