Forty-six days ago, Donald Trump reached beyond America's borders for a bogeywoman to compare Hillary Clinton to: German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel, and you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany,” Trump said. “Crime has risen to levels that no one thought they would ever, ever see. It is a catastrophe.”
It wasn't his first attack on either. Clinton may be the main target in Trump's stump speeches, but Merkel has been an occasional guest star for months.
But in an interview airing Thursday night, Trump pulled one of the biggest about-faces of his campaign. He said Merkel -- the woman he accused of causing crime in Germany to rise to unbelievable levels and creating a "catastrophe" for her country -- was a world leader he admired.
Asked by New England Cable News about a world leader he wanted to "emulate", here's what Trump said: “Well, I think Merkel is a really great world leader, but I was very disappointed ... with the whole thing on immigration. I think it’s a big problem. I was always a Merkel person. But I think she made a very tragic mistake a year and a half ago."
It's almost like Trump was asked about a world leader he really liked, and Merkel was the first to come to mind — and then he immediately thought better of it.
Of course, he wouldn't be the first to struggle with this question over the last day-plus; Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson couldn't name a single world leader he respected during an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday evening.
But it's worth noting Thursday's response was technically an about-face on an about-face, since Trump has praised Merkel before — early in his campaign, he said she was "probably the greatest leader in the world today."
By February, though, after the backlash in Germany over its welcoming of Syrian refugees had grown, Trump arrived at a different conclusion. "Everyone thought she was a really great leader, and now she’s turned out to be this catastrophic leader," he told Trump-friendly Breitbart. "And she’ll be out if they don’t have a revolution."
He also tweeted this in December, after Time magazine picked Merkel as its person of the year:
I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite They picked person who is ruining Germany
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2015
That "catastrophic leader" "who is ruining Germany" and whom Trump continued to bash just a month and a half ago is now the person he labels a "really great world leader." He even used that same construction -- "really great leader" -- in February, before arguing that Merkel is the opposite.
To state the obvious: Those are statements that are impossible to reconcile with one another. They make no sense, when placed next to one another. Even as Trump qualified his answer in Thursday's interview by noting that Merkel's immigration policies were bad, it makes no sense for him to say she's still a "really great world leader."
Trump's campaign will probably say on Friday, when it is asked about it, that he thinks she's a great leader who made a bad decision. But he said she was a "catastrophic leader." That quote and his comment Thursday are diametrically opposed, and they suggest a man who has either drastically changed his position or was saying something he didn't believe — either before or now — with no obvious reason for his position to change.
Even for Trump, whose has demonstrated little fluency in or commitment to policy — both foreign and domestic — this is a rather remarkable flip-flop.