WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time since declaring his presidential run, Republican Donald Trump offered an extended apology to those who may have been hurt by his caustic comments, saying that he regrets some of what he’s said “in the heat of debate.”
“Sometimes in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that,” the GOP nominee reading from prepared text, said at a rally in Charlotte, N.C. “And believe it or not, I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
He added: “Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.” As the crowd cheered, Trump pledged to “always tell you the truth.”
The remarks came as Trump makes significant changes to a campaign that has struggled since the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions from self-created distractions. Earlier Thursday, Trump moved to invest nearly $5 million in battleground state advertising to address daunting challenges in the states that will make or break his White House ambitions. He also shook up his campaign in recent days, tapping a combative conservative media executive, Stephen Bannon, to serve as CEO of the campaign.
The New York businessman’s campaign reserved television ad space over the coming 10 days in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker. While Democrat Hillary Clinton has spent more than $75 million on advertising in 10 states since locking up her party’s nomination, Trump’s new investment marks his first of the general election season.
Election Day is 81 days away, with early voting in the first states set to begin in five weeks.
The step into swing-state advertising, which came after Trump’s second staffing shake-up in as many months, did little to alleviate the concerns of Republican officials frustrated with Trump’s refusal to adopt the tools of modern-day political campaigns.
“We may have reached the point of no return for Donald Trump,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant, a senior aide to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.
In addition to Bannon, Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway filled the campaign manager position left vacant since Trump fired his former campaign chief almost two months ago.
But Trump struck a new, inclusive tone on Thursday, as he worked to improve his dismal pole numbers among non-white voters.
“I will not rest until children of every color in this country are fully included in the American Dream,” he said.
Conway insisted Thursday that the new team would help re-focus the nominee, without sacrificing the authenticity that fueled his successful primary campaign.
“We’re going to sharpen the message,” Conway told CNN. “We’re going to make sure Donald Trump is comfortable about being in his own skin — that he doesn’t lose that authenticity that you simply can’t buy and a pollster can’t give you. Voters know if you’re comfortable in your own skin.”
Rarely do presidential campaigns wait to advertise, or undergo such leadership tumult, at such a late stage of the general election.
Yet Trump has struggled badly in recent weeks to offer voters a consistent message, overshadowing formal policy speeches with a steady stream of self-created controversies, including a public feud with an American Muslim family whose son was killed while serving in the US military in Iraq.
He now trails Clinton in preference polls of most key battleground states. And his party leaders, even at the Republican National Committee, have already conceded they may divert resources away from the presidential contest in favor of vulnerable Senate and House candidates if things don’t improve.
Trump’s advertising plans highlight his shrinking path to the presidency.
Although Trump claims his popularity with white, working-class voters could translate to victories in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine or Connecticut, there’s little evidence to back that up. His first major ad buys shows him focused on more conventional battlegrounds.
Trump is spending at least $1.4 million in Florida, $1 million in Pennsylvania, about $831,000 in North Carolina and $746,000 in Ohio, according to Kantar Media. His biggest single-market investment comes in the Philadelphia area.
“That is the most direct route to 270,” said Chris Young, RNC field director. “Those states are critical on that pathway.”
Trump has struggled so far with women, minorities and young voters.
“His performance with those voters is so dismal that it puts other states potentially in play in an offensive way for Democrats,” said Jeremy Bird, who ran field operations for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and is now advising Clinton’s operation.