Trying to make sense of Trump's contradictory trade war tweets

China announces tariffs on certain US products
China announces tariffs on certain US products

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    China announces tariffs on certain US products

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China announces tariffs on certain US products 01:20

(CNN)President Donald Trump wants you to know two important things in a very declarative tweet Wednesday morning on China:

1. "We are not in a trade war with China..."
2. "We cannot let this continue!"
The problem is that the defiance at the end of Trump's tweet basically contradicts and definitely undercuts the message at the beginning. If we aren't in a trade war, but we aren't letting this continue, what exactly is going on?
    You'd almost forget that a month ago Trump said trade wars are "good and easy."
    In the meantime, the US has threatened $50 billion in tariffs specifically on China and on Tuesday identified 1,300 goods that would be targeted. China has answered with $50 billion in tariffs on the US and identified industries that would be targeted.
    OK, not in a trade war.
    Let's look at Trump's tweet in its entirety, which Trump posted at 7:22 a.m. ET, a little more than two hours before the stock market was set to open down sharply after China's latest response to the tariffs Trump decided to slap on the country.
    "We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!"
    There's a lot going on there and it perfectly represents the treacherous position Trump has created for himself by simultaneously pursuing a policy of economic belligerence and also relying almost exclusively on the stock market as his benchmark of economic success.
    Trump followed up at 9:20 a.m. ET, 10 minutes before US markets opened, with this: "When you're already $500 Billion DOWN, you can't lose!"
    Lose what, exactly, if we aren't into or entering a trade war?
    And regardless of whether Trump is right about the larger point that the US economy can absorb any repercussions (is that his point?), that doesn't mean individual American workers and business owners won't feel a pinch if China carries through with its tit-for-tat promised tariffs on agriculture and auto industries. The larger economy might be fine, but what about that soybean farmer in Iowa?
    Trump himself bragged back in early March (also on Twitter, naturally) that trade wars were no big whoop.
    "When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don't trade anymore-we win big. It's easy!"
    That was the day after he imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum that would affect China. Later in March, he announced the additional $50 billion in tariffs that would target China in particular and focus on intellectual property. An aggressive move by the US followed by an aggressive Chinese answer.
    In late March, after promising the $50 billion in tariffs on China, Trump suggested obliquely that everything would be OK.
    "Trade talks going on with numerous countries that, for many years, have not treated the United States fairly. In the end, all will be happy!"
    And there's some time to think about all this. The US won't go ahead with its tariffs for some months. It has public comment periods scheduled for May 15. And there are a lot of smart economists currently debating whether the two largest economies in the world firing off tariff threats at each other actually does constitute a trade war.
    We'll let those debates continue. But if you simply look at what the President of the United States has said recently, you'd be left with these very conflicting ideas:
    1. Trade wars are good and easy.
    2. In the end, all will be happy!
    3. We are not in a trade war now.
    4. We lost the trade war long ago.
    5. We can't let this continue!
    6. There's nowhere to go but up.
    Not all of those things can be true, especially since the China owns more than $1 trillion of US debt and the US economy has been roaring. In those two regards, there is definitely somewhere for the economy to go that's not up.