Can’t fault her for telling this lie. It’s always bad form for an operative to take credit for his/her boss’s words, especially when those words are a supposedly heartfelt expression of regret for having insulted people. The lie is a necessary one. But it is, of course, a lie, and interestingly it’s the sort of lie that Trump’s fans and critics recognize instantly to be one. If you’re a fan, chances are one of the things you love about Trump is precisely the fact that he doesn’t show remorse. Other Republicans might grovel when some liberal starts crying about how mean they are. Trump laughs in their faces — until last night. If you’re a critic, you’re never going to believe that a guy who’s spent 70 years refusing to apologize for anything, who’s willing to admit to a roomful of Republicans in Iowa that he doesn’t even ask God for forgiveness, suddenly has had some Scrooge-like awakening about the error of his ways. He’s a Nietzschean; he doesn’t do regret. There’s no way Trump would have said what he said last night, a Twitter pal noted, if he was up six points instead of down, and we all know it. And if you doubt that, ask yourself why he didn’t make this statement of remorse during his convention speech, when the audience was vastly bigger. The obvious answer: He wasn’t in trouble in Pennsylvania at the time.
In that sense, his “regret” speech reminds me a bit of Obama pretending to oppose gay marriage in 2008. O’s critics on the right knew he was lying. He’s an ivory-tower liberal through and through, with all the attendant social-issues views. His fans on the left knew he was lying too but they tolerated it for the same reason Trumpers will tolerate Trump’s lie, because they sense it’ll improve his chances of winning. The only group who might not know it’s a lie are the great mass of low-information swing voters who haven’t thought much about the campaign yet but are beginning to tune in now. If they see the headlines this morning about Trump showing some humility, maybe some of them will conclude that the bits and pieces they’ve heard about his poor character aren’t fair and that they should give him a chance. All of which is consistent with the Manafort/Conway “pivot” strategy of making Trump a more polished candidate down the stretch. (Same goes for his surprise trip to Baton Rouge today to see the Louisiana flooding firsthand.) You wouldn’t expect a “regret” speech to be backed by Steve Bannon, who famously likes to brawl with his enemies and whose website’s motto might as well be “Apologize for WHAT?” You would expect it from Manafort or Conway, who’ll want to soften Trump’s image a bit to help him with undecideds and to claw back some votes among white women.
But something doesn’t add up about that. Why would Trump, after ignoring Manafort’s attempts to tone him down for months, suddenly leap to follow orders once Conway gave him the same advice? She’s been with the campaign for all of six weeks. She was a Cruz Super PAC staffer in the primaries, for cripes sake. It’s bizarre to think Trump, having dumped Corey Lewandowski and now Manafort, would put his future in Kellyanne Conway’s hands basically sight unseen. Whoever got him to give the “regret” speech must be someone whom Trump respects deeply, with enough political influence to make him pay close attention when advice is given. Hmmmmm:
weird that everyone thinks Trumps big pivot tonight is due to Conway. Or Bannon. #thenamethatwillnotbementioned
— GregGutfeld (@greggutfeld) August 19, 2016
Agree. This is Ailes' Nixon '68 playbook, which involved softening Nixon at same time as running on law and order. https://t.co/RvBtc1OhLN
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) August 19, 2016
“The name that will not be mentioned” is Gutfeld’s winking way, as a Fox News employee, of alluding to Roger Ailes, who assisted Nixon during his winning ’68 campaign before founding Fox News and who may or may not be advising Trump right now. Conway getting Trump to shape up within two days of becoming campaign manager is implausible, especially if it’s true that she was hired mainly to present a veneer of professionalism while Steve Bannon goes full metal populist. But maybe Conway and Bannon are both largely veneer hires designed to placate the GOP establishment and Trump’s base, respectively, while Ailes quietly takes on a bigger role behind the scenes. Trump wouldn’t want Ailes as the public face of the campaign for obvious reasons. But behind the scenes? Sure, who wouldn’t value his advice? The bottom line is that it’s very hard to imagine Steve Bannon coming up with the idea of a “regret” speech and equally hard to imagine Conway convincing Trump to do it. It’s less hard to imagine Ailes doing either.
Exit question via Rich Lowry: What’s Trump going to say now when he’s inevitably asked, and asked, and asked, which things specifically he regrets saying? Probably he’ll just say “anything that upset people” and hope that’s enough, but Conway doesn’t rule out him apologizing to the Khans when she’s asked about it below.