Speaking today in Charlotte, North Carolina Donald Trump presented a different tone, admitting he had made mistakes at times and said “the wrong thing.”
Opening his speech with a discussion of the devastating flooding in Louisiana, Trump said, “I hope everyone in Louisiana knows that our country is praying for them and standing with them in these difficult hours.”
After a brief discussion of the economy and terrorism, Trump offered a kind of extended apology for some of the statements he has made during the campaign. “I’m not a politician,” Trump said. He continued, “I’ve worked in business, created a great company, created lots of jobs rebuilding neighborhoods—that’s what I’ve done all of my adult life.
“I’ve never wanted to learn the language of the insiders and I’ve never been politically correct. It takes far too much time…truthfully, it takes far too much time and can make it more difficult to achieve total victory. Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that…and believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
Trump concluded, “Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues. But one thing I can promise you this: I will always tell you the truth.” Later in the speech Trump built on this saying, “While sometimes I can be too honest, Hillary Clinton is the exact opposite. She never tells the truth.”
It’s not clear which statements Trump regrets making, i.e. the ones that caused personal pain. Is he talking about his statements about the Khan family? Judge Curiel? A little more specificity might have helped if he wants to really put this behind him as a lesson learned. It also wouldn’t hurt to make a personal apology in those cases, whatever they are.
Trump is right to attack Clinton on her dishonesty. Polls show that’s her Achilles’ heal regardless of what her more desperate supporters claim. But in order for those attacks on Clinton to be effective, Trump needs to present himself as the more honest alternative. That means being a lot more careful with the basic facts than he has been so far.
Americans are probably willing to grant Trump a fair amount of grace because he’s not a polished politician but they still want to see that he cares about the truth. He can’t keep doubling down on false claims and expect a majority of Americans to put it down to inexperience. You don’t need years of experience to learn the first rule of holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging.
The full speech is here: