Tom Brady visited the White House Tuesday to celebrate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl, where he joked around with President Biden at Donald Trump’s expense. It was a scene straight out of a Donald Trump nightmare, and quite possibly the worst day of Donald Trump’s life.
To grasp why such an anodyne scene would produce such a wounding effect on a man who has endured misfortunes such as bankruptcy, losing a presidential election, two impeachments, and innumerable legal setbacks, one needs to understand his peculiar psychology. Here, in rough order, is Trump’s hierarchy of needs:
1. To be treated as a winner
2. To pal around with celebrities
3. To not be laughed at
4. To gain the specific approval of Tom Brady
In Trump’s mind, the two men were parallels to each other: both Winners, and natural companions on the basis of their mastery of their respective fields. “He’s a friend of mine, he’s a great guy, and he’s a great athlete obviously, but he’s a winner,” Trump told TMZ in 2016. “I think Tom is totally innocent. I think Tom is — first of all, I know him, he’s such an honorable guy, and I’m with him all the way.” Trump has repeatedly expressed his regret that he “could have had Tom Brady” as his son-in-law, rather than the nerdy Jared Kushner.
The relationship always had an asymmetric quality. Brady repeatedly expressed discomfort at Trump’s public adulation, and has declined to talk about who he voted for. In 2017, he skipped a White House invitation to celebrate a previous Super Bowl win, citing his need to attend to his ailing mother. The snub, according to the Washington Post, sent Trump into a rage:
Trump grew angry in April 2017 when Tom Brady said he planned to skip the White House visit with the Patriots, huddling angrily with aides and even calling Patriots owner Robert Kraft. One former senior administration official described a chaotic scene unfolding over the heartlands of America, as Trump flew back from an event in Wisconsin. Trump made a number of calls and asked aides to help fix the situation, worried that Brady’s absence would reflect poorly on him.
Last year, Brady described his “friendship” with Trump that make it sound more like an unrequited man crush:
“He would call me after games, ‘I watched your game Tom, let’s play golf together.’ So, 2003, 2004, that’s kind of the way it was,” Brady said. “He would golf, and then he became someone that — he would come up to our games and stand on the sideline. He would cheer for the Patriots. He always had a way of connecting with people, and still does.
“But the whole political aspect came, and I think I got brought into a lot of those things because it was so polarizing around the election time. It was uncomfortable for me. You can’t undo things — not that I would undo a friendship — but the political support is totally different than the support of a friend.”
And now, having avoided Trump’s White House on a flimsy pretext, Brady went to Biden’s. Not only that, he used his appearance to mock the candidate he defeated.
Brady made two jokes at Trump’s expense. First, he made fun of Trump for refusing to accept defeat:
Then, twisting the knife, he made a second joke:
While this sounds more gentle than this first joke, it is in fact much more deeply vicious. In Trump’s mind, Biden is a pathetic loser, and he is the winner. Like Tom Brady.
Yet here was Brady, inverting the whole hierarchy. Biden is the winner, like Brady, and Winners now are guys who get called sleepy by the Losers for making a small mistake on the way to their triumph.
Biden and Brady, together at the house Trump used to live in and hoped to never leave, basking in their winner-ness and laughing at Trump. Donald Trump would rather relive Election Night a thousand times than see this day.