Trump escalates Harley-Davidson feud, endorses boycott against US company

The Harley Davidson logo is displayed on the outside of the Harley-Davidson of New York City store, June 25, 2018 in New York City.
The Harley Davidson logo is displayed on the outside of the Harley-Davidson of New York City store, June 25, 2018 in New York City. 

Before becoming president, Donald Trump recommended all kinds of boycotts against companies that bothered him in some way -- HBO, Macy's, and Apple were among his targets -- but since taking office, Trump has limited his boycotts to news organizations that publish reports he disapproves of.

As the Washington Post  reported yesterday, the president is now branching out.

President Trump on Sunday leveraged the office of the president of the United States against a private American company for seeking to insulate itself from his trade war."Great!" he wrote of purported plans by customers of Harley-Davidson to boycott the venerable motorcycle company over its plan to move production of motorcycles sold in Europe to factories outside the United States.

The article added that Trump's tweet "represented the first time since he became president that he has called on Twitter for a 'boycott' of an American company, media organizations aside."

And while the public has grown accustomed to the Republican's antics, it's exceedingly strange to see an American president endorse a boycott of an American company, especially in light of the fact that Harley-Davidson hasn't actually done anything wrong.

The trouble began in June, when the motorcycle manufacturer announced plans to shift some of its production abroad. Harley-Davidson expressed some disappointment over the move, but said it was a necessary change driven by the effects of Trump's trade war.

In the weeks that followed, the president repeatedly complained about, and at times even threatened, the Wisconsin-based company he used to like. (One of my personal favorites was Trump's suggestion last month that Harley-Davidson's announcement in June 2018 led to reduced sales in 2017.)

But a public endorsement of a boycott escalates matters. It appears to be the result of what the president perceives as a personal slight.

Note, for example, that Trump said in late June that he's "been very good to" to Harley-Davidson -- how, exactly, he did not say -- as if the company necessarily owed him something. "I've done so much for you," he tweeted to the company at one point.

As we discussed at the time, from the president's perspective, Harley-Davidson shouldn't just be thinking about its business operations; it should also be thinking about Trump's feelings.

He's made it sound as if Harley-Davidson should be willing to take a hit in order to help the White House -- and anything short of that is a betrayal. A Washington Post  analysis added several weeks ago, "The lack of loyalty from a company he thought he could count on politically is what appears to dig at the president more than anything else."

The manifestation of that disappointment? A presidential endorsement of an anti-Harley-Davidson boycott.

Postscript: In case you missed this yesterday, Chris Cox, the founder of the Bikers for Trump group that has organized demonstrations for the president, is now organizing opposition to Harley-Davidson for moving some production abroad. Cox is also selling Trump t-shirts made in Haiti. Asked why, he said American-made shirts just weren't affordable enough.