Donald Trump is a proud man. He rarely admits that he’s wrong. He even said, at one point in this campaign, “A lot of times, when you apologize, they use it as ammunition against [you].”
But Donald Trump effectively apologized twice on Friday — or at least admitted he was wrong twice. And, arguably, he did it three and even four times.
First, on Friday morning, there was Trump’s admission that he mistook video of the release of U.S. hostages held by Iran in Geneva as video of a transfer of $400 million from the United States to Iran. Then, on Friday night, he endorsed House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s (R-Wis.) reelection after declining to do so just three days prior.
Oh, and he also endorsed Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), whom he also conspicuously declined to back earlier this week.
“We will have disagreements, but we will disagree as friends and never stop working together toward victory — and very importantly, toward real change,” Trump said of Ryan in Green Bay, Wis.
The endorsement followed plenty of uncertainty. In comments to The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker on Tuesday, Trump declined to back Ryan and said nice things about Ryan’s primary opponent, Paul Nehlen. The snub was particularly notable since Ryan delayed his own endorsement of Trump. But given that endorsement eventually arrived, Trump’s lack of reciprocation was seen as a political faux pas — or perhaps a signal to Ryan that his continued criticism of Trump’s controversial comments wasn’t appreciated.
Trump also thumbed his nose at Ayotte, citing her lack of direct support.
“You have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot,” Trump told Rucker. “You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us, okay? You tell me.”
In the end, though, it looks like a GOP nominee who often says things he might regret had come to regret these comments. Trump trails in the presidential race badly in recent polls — by as much as 15 points — and the potential for the GOP establishment to desert him was just not something he could take on.
Ryan has set himself up as the conscience of the GOP. He withheld his endorsement of Trump for a long time before coming around, and he has regularly weighed in when the establishment saw Trump going too far.
But what’s most notable here is that Ryan continued his criticism of Trump even after Trump threatened to withhold his endorsement.
“We just came out our convention, and yeah he’s had a pretty strange run since the convention,” Ryan told Jerry Bader of Wisconsin local radio station WTAQ in an interview Thursday. “You would think you ought to be focusing on Hillary Clinton — on all of her deficiencies. She is such a weak candidate that one would think we’d be on offense against Hillary Clinton, and it is distressing that that’s not what we’re talking about these days.”
Ryan reassured that his support wasn’t a “blank check” and even sent a fundraising email that could be read to warn of a potential landslide Trump loss in November.
If Trump wanted Ryan to kiss the ring and back down, he didn’t get it. But despite that, he felt the pressure to back the most significant figure in the GOP establishment. And in doing so, he also bowed to the pressure he faced to endorse two senators who would be very important to GOP efforts to hold onto the Senate.
We’re past the point where things like this can be cast as Trump truly changing tack and shifting into general election mode. But clearly, this was one case in which he bowed to the kind of political reality he usually shrugs at.