Trump Apologizes, Wins Over Critics


On Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump apologized for comments that have been widely construed as calling for the assassination of Hillary Clinton. “I apologize,” Mr. Trump said, clearly struggling with the second word as he addressed supporters at a campaign event in Philadelphia. “I misspoke, okay? It happens. Get over it.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump had warned supporters, “If she gets to pick her judges—nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Speaking on CNN later that day, campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson insisted that Trump meant “that people that support their Second Amendment rights need to come together and get out and stop Hillary Clinton from winning in November.” When it was pointed out that Trump was referring to what might happen after the election, Ms. Pierson explained, “He was saying what could happen. He doesn’t want that to happen.”

The Clinton campaign, many in the media, and even prominent Republicans rejected this interpretation. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said, “This is simple—what Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way.”

Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, told reporters after an event in Texas, “Nobody who is seeking a leadership position, especially the presidency, the leadership of the country, should do anything to countenance violence.”

Dan Rather, the former CBS news anchor, posted in Facebook that Trump “crossed a line with dangerous potential. By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of American presidential politics.”

Writing in the Washington Post, Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman and current host of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” called for “every Republican leader” to denounce Trump’s assassination suggestion and revoke their endorsement of the controversial candidate.

Regarding Trump’s comment on the Second Amendment, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, “I don’t believe this to be a serious statement.” But Sessions added, “You absolutely shouldn’t joke about it. It’s contrary to what we believe in.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden chimed in, “You aren’t just responsible for what you say; you’re responsible for what people hear.”

With his poll numbers plummeting, Trump was in full damage-control mode in Philadelphia. After apologizing for his misstatement, he went on to say, “I’m a truth-teller. All I do is tell the truth. But some people—some people misinterpret me. On purpose, on accident, I don’t know. I was not calling for the assassination of Hillary. Please. I’m not a violent person. Never. Never violent. My friends can tell you. What I meant to call for was the assassination of terrorists or potential terrorists, okay? And there are lots of them, people, I’m telling you, in Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever. Men, women, and children. Guns, not guns. Wedding parties. Doesn’t matter. Drones would work fine, right?”

The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. President Barack Obama said, “Contrary to my early statement, I now believe that Donald Trump is, indeed, fit to be president of the United States.”

Fifty prominent Republican foreign policy and national security experts—among them Hayden and other veterans of George W. Bush’s administration—signed a letter endorsing Trump’s candidacy. “Donald Trump is the answer to America’s daunting challenges,” the letter began, and went on to note that “without a doubt, he possesses the single most important quality required of an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

Leon Panetta, Obama’s former CIA director and Defense Secretary, told the Washington Post, “As I have said on numerous occasions, we need a leader who is strong and decisive, who has the respect of our generals and admirals, and the trust of our troops, especially our Special Forces, who maintain U.S. credibility around the world. I now am comfortable with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton winning the presidency.” At the Democratic National Convention, in July, Panetta had condemned Trump because he “asks our troops to commit war crimes, endorses torture…and praises dictators.”

On his morning show, Scarborough appeared to be reconciling with the Trump campaign. He said, “I’ve been telling people for years that torture works. I know it works. You know it works. Donald Trump knows it works. This is going to make members of the mainstream media and Democratic Party uncomfortable, but you can make the argument, can’t you, that shooting a member of al-Qaeda or ISIS, even a U.S. citizen, causes less pain than waterboarding.”

Nancy Lindborg, president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, issued a statement that said, “While we applaud Mr. Trump’s support for measured counterterrorism, we contend that diplomacy, reconciliation, and no-fly zones are also necessary to achieve the U.S. goal of peace in the Middle East and remove Assad from power in Syria.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has received criticism for refusing to withdraw his endorsement of Trump, was heard joyfully singing his favorite campaign song, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

The Clinton campaign, though, remained skeptical of Trump’s correction. Mook stated, “Trump has zero foreign policy experience. Only one candidate in this race has the experience, knowledge, temperament, and judgment to call for assassination. Only one of the candidates was in the room when the decision was made to take out Osama bin Laden. Only one candidate has been privy to the president’s kill list. And that’s Hillary Clinton. The track record is there.”

On his FiveThirtyEight blog, Pollster Nate Silver wrote, “We now anticipate seeing a bump in Trump’s numbers, especially among college-educated voters.”