OPED: Trump's apology that wasn't
For hours on Friday night, the political world waited for the rarest of expressions from Donald Trump — a heartfelt apology.
What viewers got was anything but.
During a 90-second videotaped appearance, Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, offered a strikingly brief articulation of regret for a decade-old tape in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals and said he could have his way with women because of his fame.
But his real message, which appeared early Saturday, was one of defiance. He described the controversy that upended the Republican Party for most of Friday as a mere “distraction” and said that his vulgar remarks captured on the tape were nothing compared with the way Bill and Hillary Clinton had mistreated women.
If anything, Trump’s videotaped statement was a truncated version of a speech that he had given countless times. And it did not reflect the several hours of conference calls and strategy meetings among his top aides, who were at first stunned and then nearly paralyzed by the revelation of the tape, which they worried would be fatal to his White House hopes.
“That took 10 hours?” an incredulous Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, asked on CNN immediately after the statement.
With his brow furrowed and his face a tight scowl, Trump sat hunched in a chair inside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, with the glittering nighttime New York City skyline behind him.
“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not,” said Trump, a 70-year-old real estate developer and former reality television star.
Then came the apologetic part.
“I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them,” Trump said of the hot-mike recording of him bragging to Billy Bush, then the host of NBC’s “Access Hollywood,” about his groping and uninvited kissing of women.
“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am,” Trump continued.
“I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” he said.
Oddly, Trump seemed to frame his comments not as sincere concern about those he may have hurt or offended, but as part of his own journey, describing his growth as a person and how humbling it has been for him to campaign across the nation and learn of other people’s worries and travails.
“I’ve traveled the country talking about change for America, but my travels have also changed me,” he said, describing meeting mothers who have lost children and people who have lost their jobs.
“I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down,” Trump said.
Grudging though they seemed, Trump’s comments were a marked departure from his lifelong resistance to any admission of fault. Trump values strength and power and disparages weakness. His usual response, when criticized or hurt, has been to counterpunch forcefully.
Before the release of the short statement, advisers to Trump had huddled with him at Trump Tower to discuss how to respond to the crisis. The advisers cautioned against holding a news conference, something that had been discussed, because it could become unwieldy and spin out of his control. They realized they needed to address the issue quickly, at a minimum to try to stop the defections of Republican officials who had begun to shun and loudly denounce him.
But one adviser to Trump cautioned before the statement that if the candidate mentioned Hillary Clinton, it would fail.
Trump did just that.“Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground,” Trump said. “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people," he said.