It wasn't long ago that Donald Trump seemed eager to have a nice relationship with Harley-Davidson. Just two weeks into this presidency, the Republican welcomed Harley-Davidson representatives to the White House, where Trump took some credit for the motorcycle manufacturer's success, before celebrating it as a "great American company" in his first address to Congress.
As we discussed yesterday, the love affair didn't last. Trump first let Harley-Davidson down by scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company soon after closed a domestic factory.
Yesterday, Harley-Davidson announced plans to shift some motorcycle production to overseas factories, which it said was a direct result of Trump's tariff policy. The president responded last night by accusing the company of being "the first to wave the White Flag."
Trump followed this morning with a trio of tweets that seemed to threaten his former allies.
"Early this year Harley-Davidson said they would move much of their plant operations in Kansas City to Thailand. That was long before Tariffs were announced. Hence, they were just using Tariffs/Trade War as an excuse. Shows how unbalanced & unfair trade is, but we will fix it....."When I had Harley-Davidson officials over to the White House, I chided them about tariffs in other countries, like India, being too high. Companies are now coming back to America. Harley must know that they won't be able to sell back into U.S. without paying a big tax!"A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!"
Obviously, the president's unusual style of communication makes some of this difficult to understand. What's more, Trump seems confused about some of the relevant details. (Harley-Davidson, for example, never said the closure of its Kansas City plant had anything to do with the administration's tariff policies.)
But the bottom line seems to be the same: Trump apparently intends to impose new taxes on the company, and he's publicly predicting Harley-Davidson's eventual collapse.
This presidency is unique in so many ways, but one of the more jarring aspects of Trump's style is his willingness to attack American businesses, by name, when they defy his wishes.
His private-sector enemies list isn't short, and it includes entities that are large and small.
The first sign of trouble came just weeks into his presidency, when Nordstrom, a prominent high-end retail chain, ended its business arrangement with Ivanka Trump. The company said the president's daughter's products simply weren't selling well.
As we've discussed, Trump did not take the news well, insisting at the time that his daughter "has been treated so unfairly" by Nordstrom. Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer characterized Nordstrom's decision as "an attack on his daughter."
In the months that followed, Trump shifted his focus to Amazon.com. And media companies that publish reports he disapproves of. And some restaurant in Virginia that's suddenly generating lots of attention.
There is no precedent for anything like this in the American tradition.