Trump, caught boasting, finally uses the word "apologize"

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Story highlights

  • Trump is caught on a 2005 tape boasting about grabbing women's genitals
  • The GOP candidate hasn't apologized for offensive remarks until now, Michael D'Antonio says

Michael D'Antonio is the author of the new book, "The Truth About Trump." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)He finally used the word "apologize."

Michael D'Antonio
Donald Trump didn't apologize for insisting the Central Park Five were guilty, years after their exoneration. He didn't apologize for insisting the President of the United States wasn't an American. He didn't apologize for his hurtful comments about two Gold Star parents or about an Indiana-born judge of Mexican heritage. Or about immigrants or women or people with disabilities.
But after The Washington Post revealed Friday a tape that caught Trump bragging about being a sexual predator, the Republican candidate issued a statement in which he said, " I apologize if anyone was offended," and then followed up late at night with a video saying, "I said it, I was wrong and I apologize." He argued that the controversy was a distraction from the real issues.
On the 2005 tape, Trump explained that his magnetism enables him to kiss women at will and "grab" them between their legs because "when you are a star they let you do it."
In the discussion, laced with profanity, one of the milder elements of Trump's remarks was the phrase, "I moved on her like a bitch." He was, at the time, the father of four and just months into his marriage to the former Melania Knauss, a model.
In addition to using the timeworn caveat "if anyone was offended," Trump modified his written apology with the excuse that he had merely indulged in "locker room banter."
He also tried to divert attention to his opponent Hillary Clinton's husband. "Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course," said Trump in the written statement, adding, "not even close." He also attacked Bill Clinton in his video apology.
Setting aside the weaseling modifiers, the smear of Clinton, and the fact that Trump must have hung out in the locker room with some pretty awful men, his expression of regret was nevertheless a milestone.
His lifelong habit has been to never apologize. "Whatever you do, don't apologize," he explained to Boston radio host Howie Carr during the campaign. He cited the downfall of TV gambling expert Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder who made racist comments as evidence for the never-apologize method.
"He was doing OK," recalled Trump, "'til he said he was sorry."
The Trump "no apologies" record was cited by Clinton running mate Tim Kaine during his debate this week with opponent Mike Pence. Kaine asked if Trump would ever apologize for insults he has lobbed at Mexican immigrants or for calling women "slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting."
But most of all, he wanted to know if Trump would ever apologize for his years-long effort to delegitimize President Obama by repeatedly suggesting he was not born in the United States.
Having dragged the country and the President through years of false accusations, Trump had the opportunity to apologize in September, when he summoned the press to an announcement related to this issue. He spent nearly a half hour listening to veterans praise him and then quickly admitted, "Barack Obama was born in the United States, period."
No apology was made. Instead, Trump repeated the false claims that the president's birthplace had been in doubt, and that Hillary Clinton had started the whole controversy.
The worst aspect of the "birther" controversy was the way that it consigned the president to the status of "other" in a way that was inherently racist. No previous presidents -- they were all white -- were subjected to such a concerted effort to suggest they were foreign-born. Similarly, none had heard their Christian faith challenged in the way that Trump challenged Obama's by wondering, aloud, if his records indicated he was Muslim.
More recently, Trump refused to acknowledge a mistake, or apologize for inflaming the public outrage over the shocking rape and assault of woman in Central Park in 1989. At the time, Trump bought full-page advertisements in New York newspapers to declare, "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!"
In the ad, which bore his signature, Trump referenced "roving bands of wild criminals" and said, "I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and when they kill they should be executed for their crimes."
He also told CNN's Larry King that year, "Maybe hate is what we need" in response to the crime in the park.
This week, CNN's Miguel Marquez asked the Trump campaign to comment on the case in light of the fact that the five men originally convicted in the case were exonerated.
Instead of taking responsibility and acknowledging reality, Trump said, "They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."
As he often does, Trump offered Marquez only the most convenient facts to justify a simplistic position on a complex issue and avoid admitting he might have done something wrong. The Central Park Five, as they are known, did confess to various crimes under extended police questioning and implicated each other. However they were subjected to improper interrogation techniques, without access to parents or lawyers, and their so-called confessions were without merit.
In standing by his original position on the Central Park case, Trump exhibited a variation on his no apologies strategy that might be called "doubling down."
Like a gambler who shows his confidence by adding to a bet, Trump has often repeated outrageous comments and impolitic observations in order to show that he is a straight-talking person who won't be politically correct. He has done this with his false claim that he opposed the war in Iraq when he didn't, and when he said that Obama was the founder of the ISIS terrorist group and then repeated the claim.
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Why did Trump change course this time, pulling a Jimmy the Greek by admitting he did something wrong? It's likely that among the people he offended are his wife, his children, his running mate and millions of voters. Also, the existence of the audio recording makes his behavior impossible to deny.
Finally, he had no option for doubling down. Not even Trump could hear himself saying such awful things and then tell the world he would say them again, and add something worse.
Should the limited mea culpa change the way we regard Trump? The caviling tells us we should not. By offering excuses, and pointing a finger at Bill Clinton, he has maintained his standing as a dangerous and juvenile 70-year-old man.