Should Trump apologize? That’s for voters to decide

Updated 10:11 AM EDT, Tue May 17, 2016
03:01 - Source: CNN
Congresswoman: Trump will fix problem with women voters

Story highlights

Carol Costello: Morality is very much in the eye of the beholder

Many voters just looking for someone who can "shake things up" and right the economy, she says

Editor’s Note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom” each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

The New York Times story about Donald Trump and his history with women is, to put it quaintly, the talk of the town. According to the Times, the 50 interviews with women over six weeks “reveal unwelcome advances, a shrewd reliance on [female] ambition, and unsettling workplace conduct over decades.”

But will the article – which Trump dismissed as “a fraud” – push the New York businessman’s already lowly standing with women deeper into the abyss? Not if you buy what some Trump supporters are selling.

Carol Costello
Carol Costello

“Look, I mean, these are things that he is going to have to answer for,” Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus said. “But I also think there are things from many years ago, and I think that, you know, as Christians, judging each other I think is – is problematic. I think it’s when people live in glass houses and throw stones is when people get in trouble.”

Trump, meanwhile, is not asking women for forgiveness. He calls the Times’ article a “hit piece.” Some of his supporters do, too, although others also say Mr. Trump deserves forgiveness for disparaging comments about women, because, well, times have changed.

“Morality changes with the times in America,” Pastor Darrell Scott, who along with Trump adviser Michael Cohen founded the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, told me. Scott is the co-founder of the New Spirit Revival Center and a Trump supporter. “What was once immoral now is viewed as moral,” he said. “There’s no objective definition of character.”

Scott says Trump is transitioning from celebrity to public citizen. “As a celebrity figure, he’s expected to make outsized and outlandish comments. As a public figure, he’s held to a different standard.”

Whether or not you agree with that, the pastor is right about one thing: There is no objective definition of character. And morality is very much in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re very conflicted in this country,” psychologist Dr. Gail Saltz told me. “We haven’t decided how moral we want our leader to be.”

Should our leader’s morality be based on whether he or she believes in God? Gay marriage? Abortion? The death penalty? War? I could go on, but you get the drift.

Of course, as Priebus said, Americans – including women – don’t need to forgive what they don’t care about, namely Trump’s playboy past. They just want someone who can “shake things up” and right the economy.

Maybe he’s right. After all, Bill Clinton’s approval ratings actually improved at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Gallup pointed out the correlation between the public’s extraordinarily upbeat feelings about the economy and lack of significant foreign policy problems with Clinton’s high approval rating, saying this: “As the Lewinsky situation unfolded, Clinton’s job approval went up, not down, and his ratings remained high for the duration of the impeachment proceedings.”

It’s a hard pill to swallow for Pastor Scott who is, like other Trump supporters, and some Democrats, flummoxed by the continued popularity of a man who, they say, treated women far worse than Donald Trump.

“Bill Clinton committed a number of transgressions as a public servant,” Scott said. “You don’t use your office as a bordello.”

That, Scott told me, is unforgivable.

But does the fact that Clinton apologized for his transgressions – and Trump, so far, hasn’t – nix the comparison between the former President and the presidential hopeful? True, Clinton apologized only after he got caught. But in Saltz’s mind, that apology still matters.

“Forgiveness can only happen when someone regrets a mistake,” Saltz said. “It’s… impossible to change your moral compass if you can’t acknowledge that you did things that were immoral.”

Trump, a Presbyterian, told Iowa Family Leadership Summit moderator Frank Luntz that he didn’t think he had ever asked God for forgiveness. Trump later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he “likes to work where he doesn’t have to ask for forgiveness.”

“Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” Trump asked.

Just as morality can be in the eye of the beholder, so is whether Trump has made mistakes. Will a refusal to apologize matter when it comes to how women feel about Trump? I hate to take the easy way out, but we’ll find out by November.

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Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom” each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.