For nearly a year, Donald Trump’s crush on Peyton Manning went unrequited, but now the former quarterback appears to have had a change of heart. Manning spoke just after Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at a Republican retreat in Philadelphia this week.
Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has often given money to major Republicans, with Trump as notable exception. A donor to George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, and Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, Manning donated to primary candidate Jeb Bush in 2015, but not to the GOP’s general election candidate. The announcement that Manning would join Trump and Pence at a GOP event sparked speculation that he might be considering a political career of his own.
In February 2016, Trump voiced his support for Peyton Manning.
“I very much have always liked Peyton Manning,” Trump told CBS News in advance of the Super Bowl, where Manning and the Denver Broncos were due to face off against the Carolina Panthers. “He is a very good guy. I know him. And he is a very, very good guy. So, I have to go with the person I know and I like. I like the other team. I think the other team looks fantastic. Probably, they would be favored by something. But I will stick with Peyton, because he is a very good guy.”
But just four months earlier, Manning and his brother Eli had both given maximum donations of $2,700 to Bush, FEC filings show. Bush, in a rare win, flaunted Manning’s support, announcing that he would supporting Manning in the Super Bowl, “because he’s for me.” Bush later made the questionable decision of announcing — during a South Carolina rally—that he supported Manning’s Broncos over the Carolina Panthers “not because of the Broncos, but because Peyton Manning wrote me a check.”
More recently, Trump name-checked Manning while fending off allegations that he packed a speech to the CIA with his own staffers to give the impression of support from the intelligence community.
"I got a standing ovation,” Trump told ABC’s David Muir of his speech to the CIA. “In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time. ... I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it."
Trump’s son, Donald Jr. also cozied up to Manning in July, when he Instagrammed a picture of himself with the football player at a Mississippi county fair.
But Manning has previously appeared reluctant to discuss Trump.
Informed that Trump called him a “good guy” in February, Manning said he hadn’t heard the compliment, but that “I’ve met Donald Trump, I’ve played a round of golf with him a few times out in Tahoe … The times I’ve been around him, he’s been extremely nice to me.”
Asked if he was rooting for Trump in the Iowa caucus that night, Manning replied “I’m rooting for the Broncos … I’m just a meathead football player. That’s all I know.”
Manning is far from apolitical, however, with over a decade of political contributions to Republican candidates. In addition to maxed-out $2,700 donation to Jeb Bush in 2015, he also gave $5,000 to Romney Victory, Inc. in November 2012, and the maximum $2,000 to George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004. He is also a frequent donor to Republicans in Tennessee, where he attended college (and where he was accused of pushing his genitals against a female trainer’s face).
In 2006 and 2009, Manning donated to campaigns for Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, whom Trump reportedly considered for Secretary of State, before allegedly nixing the 5’7” legislator as too short for the post. Trump’s team also reportedly worried about allegations that Corker had used his used his office to invest in companies owned by friends and donors.
Manning also gave $2,600 to Senator Lamar Alexander’s reelection campaign, and $2,300 to the doomed 2008 presidential campaign of Law & Order actor-turned-Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson.
The ex-quarterback’s longtime political involvement, plus his carefully maintained image (minus the allegations that he pushed his genitals against a female trainer’s face), might make the newly retired Manning a prime candidate for a political career. In March, he and his brother Eli are scheduled to speak at an annual luncheon hosted by the Long Island Association, a business group that has previously hosted George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Rudy Giuliani.