Standing next to May during a joint news conference at the British Prime Minister’s official country house, Chequers, Trump announced he had at least started to apologize earlier in the morning. Why the drastic step? At issue is an interview in the tabloid Sun newspaper in which he was critical of May on Brexit and for not taking his advice (otherwise she’d be better off, he suggested in the interview). He also said she “wrecked” Brexit, which he supports.
The newspaper interview dropped on the same night May honored him at a black-tie dinner at Winston Churchill’s ancestral home. It was led to an extremely awkward situation, since the two were slated for meetings and the joint press conference after he criticized her and praised her political rival and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who Trump said would be good at May’s job.
That’s what it takes to get an apology from Trump, apparently.
At the news conference, Trump brought up the interview, and sought to clarify that Johnson would indeed be a good prime minister — but May is too.
“I also said that this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job. A great job. And I mean that,” Trump said.
Trump denied criticizing May, despite clearly doing so in the Sun interview, and called out the reporters for “fake news” even though the Sun is owned by Rupert Murdoch. He asked one of the reporters who was at the press conference to confirm he said “nice things” about May and that he wished they had put those in the headline of the story.
“She’s a total professional,” Trump said. “Because when I saw her this morning I said I want to apologize ‘I want to apologize because, I said such good things about you.’ She said, ‘don’t worry, it was only the press.’ I thought that was very professional.”
Let’s break that down.
A full apology, strictly speaking, would be Trump apologizing for saying the things he said to the Sun reporters.
That’s not exactly what Trump is doing here. He’s saying he wanted to apologize to her because he actually said such nice things about her. They weren’t in the headline of the story, he said, so he didn’t see them. I’m sorry, I was wrong to say the things that I said would be an apology. I’m sorry the press didn’t choose a better headline and I really did say nice things about you is less direct.
May was gracious throughout the exchange, and joked with Trump about the press. (Keep in mind May arguably needs Trump’s support and wants a trade deal with the US).
This is not to say Trump owes May an apology for criticizing her in the British press and praising her rival Boris Johnson. That’s a value judgment people can make for themselves. However, apologizing for the press is not admitting an error on one’s part.
And now this.