And it all started over misguided nonsense around some of the administration's tariffs.
President Trump welcomed members of a “Bikers for Trump” group to one of his golf resorts over the weekend. This must’ve had him thinking about motorcycles, because the next day, he fired off a tweet about Harley-Davidson, the Wisconsin-based manufacturer that started out Trump’s presidency in his good graces … only to run up against him after it used the administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs as an excuse to move production overseas.
Now, he’s suggesting a boycott.
Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great! Most other companies are coming in our direction, including Harley competitors. A really bad move! U.S. will soon have a level playing field, or better.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2018
That’s a pretty extraordinary move, for the president to single out a company like that. The company’s shares slid a little bit on Monday. Way to go, Mr. President, I guess.
Why would he do that?
Could be he read the New York Times article that sent a reporter to the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally and found bikers who saw through Harley’s tariff-blaming nonsense and acknowledged its plans to open factories in Europe and Asia because they’re growing markets (Harley sales stateside, on the other hand, have been declining for years). Or maybe he sees a political value in it, and is trying to shore up support in the biker demographic – older, white, patriotic, often military veterans – by attacking the company and siphoning off its iconic, American-made bona fides.
That’s probably only half-right, but who knows? After all, he followed up his Harley tweet with a few denigrating a former White House aide – the one who was once a contestant on The Apprentice – with whom he currently has beef. It’s just as possible that it’s all simply stream-of-consciousness nonsense, albeit with stock-rattling consequences.
Here’s what should be taken away from the spat with Harley-Davidson, which President Trump seems so eager to have:
The company made long-planned decisions to reduce American production capacity and increase it overseas, and tried to avoid the bad press by blaming them on the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs. Those tariffs, meanwhile, have given breathing room to thousands of American steel and aluminum workers, some of whom had been laid off for years because of a glut of overcapacity created in China. That's legitimate, and deserves to be recognized.
And President Trump – an incredibly polarizing figure, loved by some, hated by others, who not long ago sold “Trump steaks” at the Sharper Image – will continue to be an imperfect advocate for a tariff program that American metals manufacturing have needed for a long time.