When issued during an election race, a candidate’s apology amounts to a strategic guilty plea, submitted in the hope of softening any punishment the voters might impose.
Donald Trump has read a statement saying, “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. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues,” he said.
Unlike the standard in a New York State courtroom, there was no allocution of what transgressions he meant. The public was left to wonder what his handlers decided had cost him points in the polls.
Personally attacking the bereaved parents of a fallen soldier? Name-calling and spreading unfounded stories about rivals? Personally abusing debate moderators? Blaming the ethnicity of a judge who ruled against him in a fraud lawsuit?
Whatever Trump meant, Hillary Clinton’s de facto defense team also found this an expedient time to try some damage control — and didn’t enter a specific plea, either.
In an implicit admission that a conflict could arise, it was announced that The Clinton Foundation run by the ex-president would stop accepting foreign or corporate donations if she becomes president.
He also plans to stop giving paid speeches, it was reported.
Not that candidate Clinton is beyond apologizing more explicitly. Nearly a year ago, she did so in the continuing saga of her private email server.
“As I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts. That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility,” she said last September.
More recently, she called it a “misstatement” to say that under her administration she’d put coal miners and coal companies “out of business” in the transition to alternative energy.
Trump’s recitation about saying “the wrong thing” in the “heat of debate” sounded eerily similar to those once uttered by Mitt Romney — whose failed 2012 run gets nothing but nasty mockery from the New York real estate heir.
Four years ago, Romney was recorded saying in private that Obama began the race with 47 percent of the vote because of people who receive government assistance, pay no income taxes, and “believe that they are victims.”
“Well, clearly in a campaign,” Romney said that October, “with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right.”
An apology, no matter how minimal, can sound weighty if it comes from a president who isn’t facing the voters again — even if the words don’t win over critics.
In 2013, for example, Obama apologized to those disadvantaged by the health care insurance law he signed. “Those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me,” he said.
In late 2008, en route back to private life, President George W. Bush said that for him, “the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq.”
“A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein . . . And you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.”
Bill Clinton apologized in 1998 for the Monica Lewinsky scandal, saying: “I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.”
And Ronald Reagan expressed regret in 1987 for his administration’s illegal actions in the Iran-Contra affair. His national security chief, John Poindexter, “wanted to protect me,” he said. “Yet no president should ever be protected from the truth. No operation is so secret that it must be kept from the commander-in-chief.”