Donald Trump employs a famously limited vocabulary while on the stump, to great political effect. But at a campaign rally on Thursday, the cocky and unrepentant Republican presidential nominee added a two-syllable word to his stable that many of us thought we’d never hear pass from his lips: “regret.”
“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 told a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina. “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.”
The GOP nominee is a master of suggestion and apophasis, of saying things while claiming not to say them. When making an outrageous or patently false statement, Trump is usually careful to grant himself some distance from his own remarks, often by way of murky attribution. After all, one of his favorite phrases is “a lot of people are saying…”
Here, in his statement of regret, Trump manages to distance himself from his own supposedly humanizing mea culpa.
By not specifying what he is sorry for, Trump apologizes for everything and nothing at the same time. The candidate has insulted so many people since launching his campaign last year that it’s impossible to say who he has in mind when he speaks of regret. Think of it this way: Given its vagueness, who among the offended could claim Trump’s apology as their own?
Not U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who, according to Trump, can’t be impartial in the Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage.
Not Serge Kovaleski, the New York Times reporter Trump mocked for having a chronic condition that limits his range of motion.
Not Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star mother who Trump suggested wasn’t allowed to speak publicly because of her Muslim faith.
Not Megyn Kelly, who saw Trump retweeting posts calling her a “bimbo,” and whose tough questions Trump attributed to menstruation.
And not the millions of Mexican immigrants who live in the U.S. and are suspected rapists in the Trump worldview.
Just after Trump expressed his regret, he promised to “always tell you the truth” ― perhaps suggesting that hard truths, not meanness, have caused people pain. So until Trump starts dropping names and making personal phone calls, let’s be careful with the term “apology.”
That said, an acknowledgment of regret is an encouraging start. It should hearten those Republicans who are waiting for the outsider to moderate himself and become more of an establishment candidate. And so should Trump’s explanation: “Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.”
You see, like a career politician defusing scandal, Trump regrets most of all that you were distracted from the real problems we face. So maybe he’s more ready for Washington than anyone realized.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.