In general, in a campaign filled with controversial statements, it’s fair to say Donald Trump doesn’t do apologies and he doesn’t do regret. Which is why it was extraordinary that in his speech in Charlotte Thursday night — one of his first under a new campaign management — Trump did that rarest of things: he expressed regret for rhetorical excesses of the past and conceded that they may have caused pain for some people.
“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 told the crowd at the Charlotte Convention Center. “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.”
That was new Trump. Very new Trump.
But there was much more new Trump in Charlotte. Trump introduced a theme of a “New American Future” — his team capitalized in his prepared text — which all Americans would reach by working together in a Trump administration. For the man who at the Republican convention proclaimed that “I alone can fix” the nation’s problems, the Charlotte speech represented a remarkable turn toward common effort. According to the prepared text, Trump used the word “together” seven times in the speech, which must be a record for him. (He used “together” once — once — in his convention acceptance speech.) From Charlotte:
“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.”
Now, much of that is political boilerplate. But it is political boilerplate that Trump, the unconventional politician and speaker, has not used before.
And not just “together” — Trump also added a message of inclusiveness that could have come from any mainstream politician, Democrat or Republican. But not, until now, from Donald Trump.
“We cannot make America Great Again if we leave any community behind,” Trump said. “Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty. I will not rest until children of every color in this country are fully included in the American Dream. Jobs, safety, opportunity. Fair and equal representation. This is what I promise to African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and all Americans.”
Trump expanded on the appeal to black voters that he made Tuesday night at a speech in West Bend, Wisconsin, charging that Hillary Clinton and Democrats have for decades taken black support for granted. Citing figures on poverty, education, and crime, Trump said, “If African-American voters give Donald Trump a chance by giving me their vote, the result for them will be amazing … Look at how badly things are going under decades of Democratic leadership … It is time for a change … What do you have to lose?”
“Change” — Trump hit the theme over and over, portraying himself as the “change candidate” to voters wary of electing Democrats to a third consecutive term.
Much of the speech was a tighter, more disciplined indictment of Clinton along the lines of Trump’s older speeches. But in Charlotte, Trump admitted his own rhetorical sins before laying into Clinton for her substantive lapses.
“The American people are still waiting for Hillary Clinton to apologize for all of the many lies she’s told to them,” Trump said. ‘Tell me, has Hillary Clinton ever apologized for lying about her illegal email server and deleting 33,000 emails? Has Hillary Clinton apologized for turning the State Department into a pay-for-play operation where favors are sold to the highest bidder? Has she apologized for lying to the families who lost loved ones at Benghazi?”
There were the standard Trump critiques of big trade deals. Of a corrupt system. Of immigration practices. But there were also rhetorical turns everywhere. For example, when Trump declared that he would “refuse to let another generation of American children be excluded from the American Dream,” he turned a term favored by immigration reformers to his own uses: “Let our children be dreamers, too.”
In all, it was perhaps Trump’s most remarkable speech of the campaign — and the third noteworthy effort this week. On Monday, Trump gave a solid speech on his proposals to fight radical Islamic terrorism. On Tuesday, he gave a sharp and focused speech on law and order, coupled with an appeal to black voters. And then Thursday night in Charlotte.
Among other things, the North Carolina speech defied expectations set by some of the reporting on the recent changes at the top of the Trump campaign. Some press accounts suggested that Trump’s decision to bring in Breitbart executive Steve Bannon and to promote pollster Kellyanne Conway somehow amounted to an effort to return to the old Trump of the Republican primaries. The original wild man so beloved by a winning margin of GOP voters would come back.
That’s not at all what has happened so far. Trump’s speech in Charlotte suggested a candidate willing to take a new approach to the formidable problems he faces in this race. Perhaps the old Trump will come roaring back at any moment. But Trump in Charlotte was something entirely new.
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