By now it’s pretty clear that President Donald Trump feels personally slighted that Harley-Davidson, what used to be one of his favorite companies, is shipping some of its production overseas.
Harley-Davidson announced its decision Monday, and nearly every day since, Trump has insulted them or threatened them. Most remarkable of all, on Thursday, he flat-out begged them to bring production back to the United States.
“Harley-Davidson, please build those beautiful motorcycles in the USA, please. Okay,” Trump said in a speech in Wisconsin designed to champion his economic policies. “Don’t get cute with us. Don’t get cute.”
Harley-Davidson is based in Milwaukee, and it’s a brand that is popular with people Trump views as his loyal base.
The thing is, Harley-Davidson says it is shipping some production of its motorcycles overseas because of tariffs that, arguably, stem from Trump’s policies. The company said it wanted to avoid European Union tariffs being implemented on its motorcycles in what appears to be direct retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. At least one of Harley-Davidson’s plants being closed in Trump country planned to close well before these tariffs.
Based on what Trump has said in recent days about it, why Harley-Davidson is moving some production abroad doesn’t appear to matter to him much. 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.
Trump has held up Harley-Davidson as a shining example of a successful “Made in America” company. He’s called them “an American icon.” He has, as he’s reminded the world, hosted its executives in the White House.
In a tweet on Tuesday, the president wrote: “....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!”
Trump clearly thought Harley-Davidson was on his side when it comes to selling his economic policies. He gave Harley-Davidson lots of publicity, Trump’s favorite kind of attention. And he seems to be struggling with the realization that Harley-Davidson paid him back by, well . . . you could argue the company embarrassed him.
It’s notable that over the past few days, Trump has coupled his jabs at Harley-Davidson with almost wistful rhetoric about what could have been.
“I’ve done so much for you, and then this,” he tweeted Wednesday.
“They don’t realize the taxes are going way down,” Trump said Thursday in Wisconsin. “They don’t realize that. I spent a lot of time with them.”
He’s tried everything to get Harley-Davidson to change their minds. Over 36 hours or so, he has gone from threatening them - “The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!” he tweeted Wednesday - to trying to cajole them back: “Build them in the USA. Your customers won’t be happy if you don’t. I’ll tell you that.”
Begging, as Trump appeared to do on stage Thursday in a televised address, is highly unusual for Trump.
Speaking of highly unusual, Trump attacking private businesses that don’t fit with his political narrative is nothing new. But it is extraordinary unusual for a U.S. president to do it, since presidents’ words can move markets.
But he’s been doing it, anyway. And when it comes to Harley-Davidson, The Washington Post report sthat his aides say Trump just feels betrayed.
It’s just one more example of how Trump views the world in black and white: You’re with him, or you’re against him.
We’ve seen this play out in the Russia investigation, too. Trump publicly berated his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for stepping aside from the FBI’s ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election. It was Sessions’s No. 2, Rod J. Rosenstein, who took over all things Russia - and ended up appointing the special counsel to lead an independent investigation that Trump now regularly decries as a witch hunt.
In a tweet earlier this month, the president wrote: “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself...I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined...and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”
Clearly, Sessions is out of Trump’s favor because he didn’t take actions that would have protected Trump. (Never mind that that’s not the job of the nation’s top law enforcement official; Trump thinks otherwise.)
Now that Harley-Davidson must be out of Trump’s favor, too, according to the president’s black-white worldview, he seems to be taking the loss pretty hard.