As Trump Swerves on Trade War, It’s Whiplash for the Rest of the World

Or maybe it wasn’t. He has in recent weeks reversed himself so many times that it can be hard to tell. He switched positions on new tax cuts and enhanced background checks for gun purchases. He denied that a planned trip to Denmark was to pursue his ambition of buying Greenland, then when the prime minister said it was not for sale, he canceled the trip, saying there was no point in going.

That can leave even his supporters unsure how to respond. When Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, made a surprise visit to Biarritz on Sunday for discussions with the French on the sidelines of the Group of 7 meeting, American officials would not say whether they had advance notice. “No comment,” Mr. Trump said, uncharacteristically.

That led many to assume he had been ambushed and his allies lashed out on his behalf. Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, called it “completely disrespectful” and “manipulative of Macron,” referring to President Emmanuel Macron of France. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, added, “Why would Macron suck up to stone cold killers?”

But then a day later, Trump insisted that no, he had not been ambushed, he had known all along and given it his blessing. In fact, he went even further, declaring himself willing to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in the next few weeks if Mr. Macron could set up an encounter under the right circumstances.

In part, Mr. Trump’s various contradictions owe to the fact that he is far more open and far less guarded with the news media than any of his modern predecessors. For all of his antipathy toward “fake news,” he talks with reporters almost constantly, creating many opportunities for off-script remarks. On Monday alone, he took questions from reporters in free-flowing sessions four different times.

Journalists never complain but even Mr. Trump seemed to think maybe he had talked too much. “I don’t know why we need to have a press conference,” he was overheard griping to Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff, before his last encounter with journalists.

“You wear them down after a while,” Mr. Mulvaney replied.