Quit Apologizing!

What is it with Republicans and apologies? Presidential contender Jeb Bush is the latest apologizer, hoping his gesture will win enough praise to get him elected to groveler-in-chief. Jeb is old enough to remember John Wayne, the ultimate tough-guy cowboy, a man’s man. The Duke had a cowboy’s take on apologizing, “Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”

The Washington Post was giddy about Jeb’s supposed “gaffe” this week over women’s health care. Jeb said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” Within hours he folded, admitting that he “misspoke.” And in so many words, he apologized. In doing so he threw a gold braided lifeline to Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is sinking like a rock. Jeb also inadvertently revived the phony “Republican war on women” meme that the media and the left would love to use during the upcoming election season.

The “women’s health issues” Jeb is referring to are abortions. Planned Parenthood performed 327,653 abortions in 2014, or one every 90 seconds. “Women’s health issues” are not about mammograms, which despite being an essential element of “women’s health”, are not performed by Planned Parenthood. Instead they refer mammograms to outside physicians and clinics.

In fact, except for abortions, Planned Parenthood provides little that is not already available in the community. The Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, guarantees preventative health services for women. From the ObamaCare website, “All Marketplace health plans and many other plans must cover the following list of preventive services for women without charging you a copayment or coinsurance. This is true even if you haven’t met your yearly deductible.” Twenty-two guaranteed benefits including screening for various forms of cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, osteoporosis screening, tobacco interventions, and well-women visits.

All these services are available to women at no cost. So Jeb is right, why spend an additional half billion dollars on services already accessible and free to women? And everyone should have the necessary insurance. It’s now the law of the land under ObamaCare.

Despite being correct, Jeb folded like a cheap suit. And he handed the Democrats a gift-wrapped campaign issue. “Democrats seized upon Bush's words to argue that he is unfit for office.” And this isn’t the first time for Jeb. He walked back previous comments including “workers need to work longer hours” and “phasing out” Medicare. It also took him a week to clarify and reclarify his Iraq war comments.

Maybe the Democrats are right about him being unfit for office. What if Jeb criticized Ayatollah “Death to America” Khamenei or Vladimir Putin and suppose Nancy Pelosi or CNN thought the comment inappropriate? Would Jeb “walk it back” with the excuse that he “misspoke”? Is that leadership? Did Ronald Reagan walk back his “evil empire” description of the Soviet Union?

Compare and contrast Donald Trump. After his comments that some illegal Mexican immigrants are rapists, did he walk anything back? On the contrary he doubled down, defending his remarks vociferously. Has Trump apologized about any of his comments? Has he clarified his remarks? Instead, he answered his critics with his own punch, as he did with CNN’s Don Lemon. “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”

Who’s atop the polls on the Republican side? The well-financed, moderate establishment candidate wearing the cloak of inevitability, who also happens to share a spine with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell? Or the firebrand who says what he means and means what he says?

Democrats don’t apologize either. After the Planned Parenthood videos demonstrating a taxpayer-funded chop shop for babies, are any Democrats apologizing or walking back their previous support of Planned Parenthood? Hardly. They are doubling down in Donald Trump fashion.

Campaigns are a tough business. Constant questions and pressure. Gaffes happen. Ask Joe Biden. An honest misstatement can and should be dealt with quickly and put to rest. Otherwise they are blood in the water to political opponents. The Donald’s comments about Mexican illegals are long forgotten with the focus now on the upcoming debates or his latest dustup with the media. As John Wayne observed, constant apologies are a sign of weakness. And a death knell in a presidential campaign.

The lesson is obvious and should be seized upon by other Republican candidates. Whether it’s Trump’s bravado or Cruz and Fiorina’s articulate explanations of their positions, it’s all offense. Apologies are defense and no team wins playing only defense.

Republican hopefuls would do well to heed the words of Agnes Macphail, “Never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done, and let them howl.” Let the howls from the media and the political establishment be the battle cry for Republicans as they choose a candidate for President.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician and writer. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.