How Henry Kissinger Felt About Donald Trump

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former President Donald Trump's polarizing political careers have garnered countless scrutinous critiques from the public and, at times, each other. Kissinger died at 100 on November 29, 2023, but one year prior, he shared his opinion on the former president in an interview with PBS.

"When [Trump] started and asserted the American national interest, and not only abstract principles, I had sympathy for him," Kissinger explained on "PBS News Hour." "But as his position developed of being so centrally focused on one person, so turning issues into confrontations, I became less enthusiastic. I wasn't enthusiastic, but I was hoping."

Indeed, as Trump's political career and approval ratings fluctuated throughout his presidency, so did Kissinger's support of the divisive Republican figure. Although Kissinger was initially optimistic about Trump's candidacy, the former Secretary of State to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford said that the January 6, 2021, insurrection caused him to lose faith in Trump.

The January 6 insurrection was Henry Kissinger's last straw with Trump

Although there were some elements of Donald Trump's presidency that Kissinger agreed with and even supported, the former Secretary of State told PBS' Judy Woodruff that the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, was unforgivable. "For an American president to challenge the constitutional system and to try to overthrow the Constitution is a grave matter," he said. 

Kissinger, who fled Nazi Germany with his family just months before Kristallnacht in 1938, has long been a proponent of bipartisan cooperation and democracy. In 2016, Kissinger and former Secretary of State George Shultz announced they would not be endorsing any candidates in the presidential election, instead choosing to remain "dedicated to fostering a bipartisan foreign policy, and we will devote ourselves to this effort now and after the election," per CNN.

The Bavarian-born politician also butted heads with former President Donald Trump over his infamous Muslim travel ban. Before Trump became the official Republican nominee for the 2016 election, Kissinger told Fox Business News in May of that year he would push Trump to avoid excluding an entire group so hastily, The Hil reports.

Henry Kissinger and Donald Trump's relationship wasn't all negative

After Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger lauded Trump as a president unlike any other that has come before — or any other politician that has been in power anywhere in the world. "It is a shocking experience to them that he came into office, at the same time, an extraordinary opportunity. And I believe he has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president. One could imagine that something remarkable and new emerges out of it," he said during a 2016 interview on "Face the Nation," per CBS.

Though Henry Kissinger never explicitly backed former President Donald Trump, the pair maintained a professional relationship throughout Trump's tenure. A decades-long U.S. diplomat, Kissinger advised Trump on foreign policy, particularly when it came to handling the delicate relationships between the U.S. and major global forces like China and Russia. Trump, on the other hand, was far less discretionary with his praises for Kissinger. 

Touting their close relationship due to them both being involved in "the New York scene" in a 2017 White House briefing, Trump said he considered Kissinger to be an ally. "I've liked him, I've respected him. But we've been friends for a long time, long before my emergence in the world of politics, which has not been too long. He's a man I have great, great respect for. It's an honor to have Dr. Kissinger with us, a man of immense talent, and experience, and knowledge," he said, per the White House Archives.