Donald Trump on Thursday expressed regret over causing “personal pain” through ill-chosen words he has used “in the heat of debate,” an unexpected and uncharacteristic declaration of remorse for a candidate whose public persona is defined by his combative and bombastic style.
Speaking during his first campaign rally since rebooting his campaign, the Republican presidential nominee sought to frame himself as a truth-telling candidate who occasionally crosses boundaries while pursing the public interest. He also sought to contrast himself with his Democratic rival, Hilary Clinton, who he accused of dishonesty and pandering.
“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,” Trump said, with a slight smile, during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C.
“And believe it or not, I regret it. 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. “But one thing; I can promise you this: I will always tell you the truth.”
The move marked a sharp departure from Trump, who has avoided apologizing or expressing regret in more than a year of campaigning, after a seemingly endless stream of feuds and controversies. Notably, he said earlier this month that he did not regret his feud with Gold Star parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who lost their son Army Capt. Humayun Khan while he served in Iraq in 2004.
Speaking Thursday, Trump did not specify what he regretted during his speech Thursday and did not directly apologize to anyone.
Trump tore Clinton during his speech, which he read from prepared remarks on a teleprompter, and called on her to apologize for “one lie after another.” Trump has regularly accused Clinton of dishonesty in an attempt to exploit low honesty ratings in public opinion polls.
“While sometimes I can be too honest, Hillary Clinton is the exact opposite: she never tells the truth. One lie after another, and getting worse each passing day,” he said. “The American people are still waiting for Hillary Clinton to apologize for all of the many lies she’s told to them, and the many times she’s betrayed them.”
Thursday marked Trump’s third teleprompter speech since Monday, a departure from his free-wheeling campaign rallies. The move appears to be the campaign’s attempt to prevent missteps or gaffes and to keep his message focused on combating terrorism and investing in law enforcement, two issues they hope to use to create a contrast with Clinton.
And the move could backfire, seeming inauthentic for voters who see a clear departure from his more free-wheeling performances.
Clinton has preemptively slammed Trump’s attempt to “pivot,” saying Wednesday during a campaign event in Cleveland that staff changes and speeches will not change Trump as a candidate.
“Donald Trump has shown us who he is. He can hire and fire anyone he wants from his campaign. They can make him read new words from a teleprompter,” she said. “But he is still the same man who insults gold star families, demeans women, mocks people with disabilities and thinks he knows more about ISIS than our generals.”
Trump also blamed some of the controversy over his missteps on the media, which has become a regular punching bag for the Republican candidate.
“The establishment media doesn’t cover what really matters in this country, or what’s really going on in people’s lives,” he said. “They will take words of mine out of context and spend a week obsessing over every single syllable, and then pretend to discover some hidden meaning in what I said.”
For minority voters, who have expressed deep disdain for Trump and have accused him of racism, such speeches may do little to change minds. This spring, protesters clashed with Trump supporters in cities across the country, sometimes violently. Those clashes carried uncomfortable racial dynamics: While a large contingent of the protesters were black or Hispanic, Trump’s supporters are overwhelmingly white.
Trump notably made a direct pitch to black voters, who he addressed directly — seemingly for the first time — during a speech Tuesday in West Bend, Wis., where the audience was primarily white. Then, as on Thursday, he promised to give attention to the inner cities and accused the Democratic Party of pandering. He also once again accused Clinton of “bigotry.”
“What do you have to lose by trying something new? Watch, I will fix it. Watch. You have nothing to lose,” Trump said. “They have been playing with you for 60, 70, 80 years. Many, many decades. You have nothing to lose. I will do a great job.”