Donald Trump regrets to announce that you should forget about the old Donald Trump, the one who won the GOP nomination by occasionally bringing you personal pain — the worst kind of pain, by the way — and not only when you were doubled over in astonishment at his latest insult-comic routine.
Forget that guy. This is the new, even classier version of Trump (and for those of you old enough to remember the new Nixon, if it seems like deja vu all over again, that’s because it is).
This is the reset-button Trump whose polls are cratering, whose not-likable-enough numbers are soaring, whose orange-haired popularity is only slightly higher than that of green-haired Ryan Lochte, whose PR team is probably right now putting together a sorry-if-I-caused-any-personal-pain statement. But, to Lochte’s credit, he has insulted only two nations. Trump is working on an entire planet.
There are at least two remarkable things about the new Trump’s speech in Charlotte.
One, the man who prides himself on never having to say he’s sorry did just that, although, as everyone has noted by now, he didn’t say exactly what he was sorry for. As in his policy plans, this speech was woefully short on specifics. He didn’t mention whether he was apologizing to Gold Star families or to John McCain or for the whole birther thing or to Cruz’s dad or to ISIS co-founders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton or to disabled people or to Megyn Kelly/Carly Fiorina/all other women or for appealing to his Second Amendment people to do what (he thinks) his Second Amendment people should do.
The list is so long. And when Trump first said he regretted being, well, so Donald Trumpish, the crowd in Charlotte, N.C., laughed because, you know. But then he said, “Believe it or not, I do regret it,” and so the crowd cheered, because it’s a Trump crowd and they’ll cheer whatever he says.
Two — and this is the truly remarkable part — there are people, apparently including the new Trump and his newly organized new-Trump staff, who think this act of desperation might just work.
Just to be clear, on the night that Trump was confessing all his sins — if not exactly in the way St. Augustine might have done it — one of his no-medical-degree-needed surrogates was on TV, with a straight face, diagnosing weak-Hillary with dysphasia. (And if reading that doesn’t give you brain damage, I’m not sure what will.) No word on whether that diagnosis was painful, or absurd, enough to reach the Trump-apology threshold. But whatever else it was, it was old Trump, the pre-pivot Trump, the real Trump, just as it would be in Charlotte when Trump went back to blaming the media for whatever it was that Trump was supposedly apologizing for. Just as it is in Trump’s first campaign ads, in which the dark overtones of Hillary Clinton’s America is old Trump at his dystopian worst.
Here’s the new-Trump money shot in the speech, which is worth reading in full, because it’s either the start of an entirely new phase of the campaign or (here’s my guess) it’s not.
“Sometimes in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or say the right thing,” Trump said. “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.
“But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.”
OK, note the truth-telling part from the candidate whose campaign has been one long exercise in fact-checkery. But Clinton’s weakness is in her untrustworthiness numbers, and it is there where Trump must go to have any chance at winning.
Careful Trump observers were also quick to spot another change in what was Trump’s third consecutive prompter speech. He used the words “we” and “together.” These are not words he likes. He likes the “I” word, as in “I alone can fix it.” It’s the strongman’s choice of personal pronoun, and, believe me, he was back to it by speech’s end with his two-fold pitch to African-American voters to vote for him: “What do you have to lose?” and “I can fix it.” Oh, and he also called Hillary Clinton a “bigot.” For the record, he didn’t apologize.
Here are some of the new-Trump, new-outreach Trumpisms as collected by the Washington Examiner’s Byron York:
“We are one country, one people, and we will have together one great future.”
“I’d like to talk about the New American Future we are going to create together.”
“This isn’t just the fight of my life, it’s the fight of our lives — together — to save our country.”
“We are going to bring this country together.”
“Together, we will make America strong again.”
He reached out to blacks, Hispanics, whoever else he could think of. It was that kind of inclusive, big-ballroom kind of speech that shocked the political world because, if nothing else, Trump had just hired Breitbart flamethrower Steve Bannon to run his campaign, and everyone assumed this was the start of the Let-Trump-Be-Trump movement, in which the untethered candidate would go out in a blaze of glory. It was to be his final go-big-or-go-home-and-start-a-media-company moment.
And it still may be, unless you believe — and it pains me to even suggest it – that the new under-control, read-from-the-prompter Trump could last all the way till November.
Photo credit: Sachin Patil, Creative Commons, Flickr