I still think it’s too late for Donald Trump.
The dust-up with the Khan family will turn out to be the mortal blow to his presidential candidacy.
But if there’s one thing that Trump could do to come back from the dead — and I’ve said this before — it’s issue an apology for all the cruel and inappropriate things he’s said over the past year.
Lo and behold, on Thursday he did just that — sort of.
“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,” Trump said in a prepared address in North Carolina. “I have done that, and believe it or not I regret it. I do regret it particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
An apology shouldn’t be an extraordinary thing (I start my day with a blanket apology to my wife.) But in Trump’s case it is. He’s a famous non-apologist. He never expresses regret or contrition — that’s his thing.
So it was appropriate that since Trump’s remarks on Thursday, the media reported so widely on his sudden change of heart. Those three sentences were a radical departure for him, and possible early evidence that he’s listening to his new political team.
The real question, though, is whether that change of heart is sincere or if it was merely words on a teleprompter that he reluctantly agreed to read. It shouldn’t be long before we find out. Trump — whose campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned on Friday — has heretofore been incapable of going more than 72 hours without saying or tweeting something outrageous.
If Trump were smart, he would double down on his statement Thursday by giving a speech — a long one — dedicated entirely to the hurtful comments he’s made over the past 14 months. He could go through them one by one, categorically, expressing regret to individuals and ethnicities about which he’s said controversial things. He wouldn’t have to change his positions or stop being Donald Trump, he’d just have to let down his mask, and for once show some humility.
I can’t speak for others in the #NeverTrump world, but about 80 percent of why I can’t support him is his cruel and untethered tongue, and his basic lack of manners. I think it’s too dangerous to have someone that volatile in the Oval Office. Policy advisers could steer a President Donald Trump on a steady course, but only if he’s capable of listening to and learning from them. He needs to show voters that he is over the next two-and-a-half months.
I don’t know Stephen Bannon, Trump’s new campaign chairman, but I do know Trump’s new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, and there’s no one better. She’s smart, loyal and tough and maybe, just maybe, Trump is listening to her.
One of Trump’s first apologies should go, ironically, to Arizona Sen. John McCain for his belittling of the former Navy combat pilot being shot down over North Vietnam. McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years, has made a career out of issuing apologies and moving on. That’s his thing.
Trump should learn from McCain in that regard. Humility is not a weakness, it is a demonstration of strength.
We need to see more of it.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.