It took almost twelve hours from the release of the recording containing Trump’s odious remarks about his approach to women, before his campaign finally released a video apology. By the time the video aired it was around midnight Eastern time, far too late to make a difference and only after an eternity had passed in the 24-hour cycle.
One would think that the given the time to prepare a response, Trump’s campaign could have done better than a dimly lit forced read off a teleprompter that gave the impression the candidate was being forced to address the camera at gunpoint. One might have expected Trump to show contrition, and expand upon how he’s a different from the one that appears in the recording. After all, there are few things Americans love more than a redeemed sinner. But there was barely even an attempt at a narrative of redemption:
“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. I have traveled the country talking about change for America, but my travels have also changed me. I’ve spent time with grieving mothers who have lost their children, laid-off workers whose jobs have gone to other countries, and people from all walks of life who just want a better future. I have gotten to know the great people of our country, and I’ve been humbled by the faith they’ve placed in me. I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.
That was it. Then the predictable counterattack on the Clintons began, and the statement ended on a note of defiance:
Let’s be honest: We’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today. We are losing our jobs, we’re less safe than we were eight years ago, and Washington is totally broken. Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
But there’s a bigger problem here. Trump didn’t just say inappropriate things. He bragged about committing sexual assault.
Trump’s surrogates fanned across the news networks dismissing his comments as “locker room talk” and “male banter.” Trump himself apologized for saying “those words.” The campaign, in other words, is treating Trump’s admission of behavior veering on sexual assault as just a bunch of rambunctious guy talk. That’s not even true, of course–most men do not, in fact, joke to their buddies about touching women’s private parts without their consent just because their fame and wealth allow them to. Most men do not talk openly to each other about trying have sex with married women.
That’s because there’s a difference between joking about what you might like to do in your fantasy world, and bragging about sexual assaults you actually inflict on women. Gross as it would be, Trump was not talking about what he wished he could do with these women–that’s normal enough that even when Trump was recorded suggesting he wished he could sleep with his own daughter, most people seemed to shrug it off.
Trump was literally preening about how being “a star” allowed him to grope and kiss women against their will–and strongly suggested that he had done just that. And, in fact, numerous women have alleged that he used his power to take advantage of them. Trump wasn’t musing about wanting to have sex with a married woman; he described in detail his failed attempts to seduce one.
In other words, it wasn’t that Trump said things for which he should be ashamed and ought to apologize. He did things for which he could legitimately be sued and even put in jail.
The only thing that could possibly save Trump’s spiraling campaign is a display of true contrition. That seems to constitutionally impossible for the real estate tycoon, particularly given that his entire campaign has shown him to be a man not much different from the one who joked about groping women so obnoxiously a decade ago. But his campaign would have to at least make the attempt, perhaps by claiming that his concern for the country during Obama years had focused his mind away from petty things and toward the issues facing America. It would require some version of a “changed man” narrative that actually fits with the evidence Americans have seen over the last year.
That’s certainly a tall order for the GOP nominee. But to even have a chance of making it credible, Trump cannot simply apologize for his words. He has to apologize for his actions.