Trump takes topsy-turvy show to international stage

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE brought his tumultuous style of governing to the world stage over the weekend, offering a steady stream of vacillating statements that kept world leaders on their toes and generally dominated the Group of Seven (G-7) summit.

Before he even took off for France, Trump had triggered a stock sell-off on the eve of the summit, set to focus on the global economy, by pledging to impose higher tariffs on China.

Two days later, he suggested he regretted escalating trade war. Hours after that, the White House said he regretted not imposing higher tariffs. And on Monday, Trump was predicting a deal would be reached with China. 


The tornado of Trump news swings didn’t stop there.

Over less than 72 hours, Trump pushed a trade deal with Britain, announced an agreement with Japan, flirted with the idea of a new nuclear pact with Iran and skipped a climate summit organized by French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronLebanon's prime minister-designate resigns Navalny released from hospital after suspected poisoning US-China tensions shadow United Nations meeting MORE that was given a new sense of urgency by the fires raging in the Amazon.

Before the summit began, world leaders were talking about Trump’s bid to buy Greenland and an ensuing feud with Denmark’s leader. The night before the summit ended, Axios released a report about Trump asking briefers if it would be possible to nuke hurricanes to prevent them from hitting the United States.

The flurry of stories came in the context of new questions about the global economy and Trump’s status for next year’s presidential election.

Economists believe the prospects for a recession next year in the United States are rising, in part because of the trade fight, and polls suggest Trump will at a minimum face a tough reelection race.

Those factors have the media watching and wondering whether the pressure is getting to the president.

World leaders hoped to address the slowing economy and other key issues such as climate change and tensions in Syria and Hong Kong but saw the summit dominated by issues central to Trump’s “America First” agenda.

“It’s classic Trump, which is that there’s no consistency from one day to the next,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant. “He cares a lot about his own coverage and reacts to it.”

Trump tweeted before departing for France that he had pledged support to Brazil in fighting fires spreading across the Amazon. But he skipped a G-7 meeting on climate on Monday morning that addressed the issue and later said he was unwilling to sacrifice an American economic boom for the sake of the environment.

The president sat side by side with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday and said the two were “always on the same page” but moments later broke with Abe and said North Korea had not violated any agreement with its testing of ballistic missiles as he seeks to denuclearize the peninsula.

The president’s unpredictability was most evident as he fluctuated on his approach to his trade war with China. 

On Monday, he said this was just a reflection of his negotiating style.

“It’s the way I negotiate. It’s done very well for me over the years. And it’s doing even better for the country,” Trump said during a press conference on Monday.

The president has pinned much of his administration’s legacy and his argument for a second term on the U.S. economic outlook remaining strong. But his off-the-cuff negotiating style and refusal to back off a fight with China have unnerved investors.

Polls show that voters are wary of the president’s strategy on the economy, which has generally been a strength for Trump. An Associated Press survey released last week found that 46 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of the economy, while 51 percent disapproved.

Some Trump critics seem to see an opening. Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) announced Sunday that he will launch a campaign to primary Trump, and recent polls have shown the president losing in hypothetical 2020 match-ups against Democratic candidates Joe BidenJoe BidenPrivacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus Trump crowd chants 'lock her up' about Omar as president warns of refugees in Minnesota MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats say Biden survived brutal debate — and that's enough The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate Trump, Biden clash over health care as debate begins MORE (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren slams Trump over Proud Boys comments Ocasio-Cortez, Warren pull out of New Yorker Festival amid labor dispute The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate MORE (D-Mass.).

The president fixated on the media coverage throughout the summit, giving the impression he was at times more concerned with headlines about the event than the proceedings themselves.

Trump frequently lashed out at what he deemed false news reports about conflict between leaders at the summit, claiming at one point that other attendees’ most common question to him was “Why does the American media hate your country so much?”

On Monday morning, Trump was meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel when his personal Twitter account issued a tweet decrying the Axios report that said he suggested nuking hurricanes.

“The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous,” Trump tweeted while televisions showed him sitting beside the German leader. “I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!”

The president’s mood has a tendency to dictate the outcome of global gatherings, as it did last year when he refused to sign a joint communique after Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauMeeting of G-20 world leaders to be held virtually this year Canada says former ambassador to US violated conflict-of-interest law No new Canadian COVID-19 deaths reported for first time since mid-March MORE asserted he would retaliate against any U.S. tariffs.

“The French handled [Trump] exquisitely,” said Jon Alterman, a former State Department official and expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They understood that he’s at his most disruptive when you need his agreement on things. So they went out of their way not to do things that required his agreement.”

World leaders in Biarritz were careful to tiptoe around potentially thorny subjects and register dissent with Trump as delicately as possible. 

Macron, the host of this year’s G-7 summit, caused a stir by inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Biarritz. Zarif’s surprise arrival sparked speculation that the French president may have angered Trump, whose administration sanctioned the Iranian official last month.

Macron carefully explained Monday that he had not undercut the U.S. president, emphasizing that he kept Trump informed with each new development on Zarif’s possible attendance.

The efforts to appease Trump appeared to pay off, as the president spoke warmly of the summit before departing.

“We were accomplishing a lot, but I think more importantly we were getting along very well,” Trump said. “Seven countries, and it really was the G-7.”

Morgan Chalfant contributed.