For many voters, a major part of Donald Trump’s appeal is that he doesn’t apologize for anything. There is a real market for that when the demands for apologies so often come from the censors of left-wing political correctness.
But what about apologizing when you have in fact made a mistake, especially one that ends up affirming your critics? That is the position Donald Trump finds himself in today.
You probably know the details. An unaffiliated, independent super PAC recently distributed suggestive photos of Melania Trump — photos, by the way, that were taken for GQ magazine 15 years ago. (Mrs. Trump is a former model.) Trump blamed Ted Cruz and retaliated by retweeting a very unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz.
With that one retweet, Trump appears to have magnified the problems he already had with crudeness and insensitivity toward women. (Remember Trump’s comments about Carly Fiorina?)
In the heat of campaigns, as it is in life, people do and say stupid things. But personal attacks against the appearance of a candidate’s wife are generally considered beyond the pale.
The simple solution when people do stupid things is to apologize, something that Mr. Trump seems to have a hard time doing. Perhaps he is worried that an apology will damage his brand. But his brand IS being damaged by this episode.
There is some evidence that the controversy is hurting him in Wisconsin, a state initially believed to be good ground for him. Last month, Trump enjoyed a 10-point lead in Wisconsin. But two recent polls have Senator Cruz leading narrowly. Today, Senator Cruz picked up the endorsement of Wisconsin’s conservative governor, Scott Walker.
In recent days, Trump has done interviews with several conservative talk radio shows in Wisconsin, and the hosts have pummeled him, demanding he apologize to Mrs. Cruz. Or, at a minimum, concede that Ted Cruz was not responsible for the suggestive photos of Melania Trump being used in an ad and that attacking Heidi Cruz was inappropriate.
Even some Trump supporters have been deeply offended by his reaction. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last night, Newt Gingrich said that Trump’s reaction was “just utterly stupid,” adding, “I’m not sure anybody in the Trump campaign understands yet what a big mistake this is.”
During an interview this week, Ann Coulter, a very vocal Trump supporter, shared her disappointment. “Our candidate is mental. Do you realize our candidate is mental?” Coulter said. “It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16 year-old son from prison. . . This is the worst thing he’s done.”
Mr. Trump has not asked for my political advice, but I’ll offer it anyway: Clean this up now, Donald. If you don’t, and still manage to get the GOP nomination, this is the kind of nonsense that will make it very hard for you to appeal to female voters (half the country) in a general election against a well-known female candidate.
Gary L. Bauer served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration for eight years, as Under Secretary of Education and as President Reagan’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor.