Because I clearly have no idea how to do anything better with my time, I sat last night and watched The Donald’s massive Trumpapalooza in Dallas which attracted more than 15,000 fans. As the event wore on and the crowds roared I took note of a comment dropped in by one of the cable news commentators who remarked on the fact that Trump was continuing to go on the attack and making no apologies for anything he’s said or done. For whatever reason, that single observation stuck with me until I went to bed and I was still thinking about it this morning.
This revelation ties back to several discussions we’ve had here in the past which revolve around the idea of how Trump has cast out the old rules of political warfare and left the professionals and media spokesmodels flustered beyond belief. You see, we all know how the game is played and we expect everyone to play by those rules. There are certain things you aren’t supposed to say or do during a campaign. And much more to the point, if you do happen to slip up and say or do one of them, reporters will line up and ask if you are ready to apologize for your crude, unacceptable, rule breaking behavior. In the past our politicians have simply accepted their role and dutifully rolled out a mea culpa.
But does that ever really help anything? I got to thinking about how many weeks and months of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal rolled by with almost all of the reporters who somehow managed to get an interview asking her if she was sorry. Finally the day arrived and she gave in to the media and apologized for her part in the whole debacle. Did it do her any good? Nope. Her number only slid further.
It seems to me that this is a wonderful game for the media to play, but the candidate is always the loser. And the reason is that when you apologize, no matter how sincere it may or may not be, the public only hears the admission that you were wrong. And despite your remorse over your error, you are now the person who was wrong. Given the unrealistic expectations we place on candidates in general, that’s not the best tag to have sewn on your jacket.
Contrast that with Trump. He’s been declared to have broken the rules now more times than I can count without the help of a Cray supercomputer. One of the more famous examples was when he seemingly implied that Megyn Kelly was on her time of the month during the first debate. You can argue for the next fourteen months whether or not that’s what he really meant, but the media latched onto it like a bull terrier. And yet when the reporters came to ask if he wanted to apologize, Trump basically told them, screw that. She should apologize to me!
For better or worse, Trump maintains a rock steady course of projected self-confidence, insisting that he’s right and anyone who disagrees with him must therefore be wrong. And the fact is, people respond to that. They don’t want some “loser” marching up to the microphone with a hangdog look on their face saying I’m sorry. They want a winner who tells them that things are going to get better. And that’s what Trump delivers.
It’s an idea that’s reminiscent of some other famous non-apologists. I’m reminded of one of Andrew Breitbart’s final tweets before he died, in which he simply asked, “Apologize for what?” I quickly lost track of how many people cited that as perhaps his most fitting legacy and the attitude upon which he built an unlikely media empire. You don’t really have to be right all the time… you just need to believe you are and stay upbeat. This realization of the value of not saying your sorry may wind up being one of Trump’s strongest attributes. Screw your rules… he’s playing the game a new way and seems to have figured out something that everyone else missed.
There is one exception to the #SorryNotSorry rule, though. Trump currently leads Ben Carson 27-23 in the latest CBS national poll, but Carson is staying in contention. And yet Carson recently put out an apology of his own. It came as a result of questioning Trump’s faith. (Politico)
“I said something that sounded like I was questioning his faith. I really wasn’t, I was really talking more about mine. But it was said in an inappropriate way, which I recognized and I apologized for that. It’s never my intention to impugn other people,” the Republican presidential candidate said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Monday.
You can still apologize for failing to live up to the expectations of your faith. We’re all sinners and the voting public doesn’t seem to judge you if you veer off the righteous path (within certain limits) and you apologize for your own mortal shortcomings. But when it comes to breaking the rules of man – specifically those in the media or the professional political consultant game – an apology is more likely to sink you than save you. Donald Trump either figured that out on his own in advance or the man is a natural. Either way, it’s obviously working. The era of the political apology may be over.