There are two takeaways from Donald Trump’s ongoing public dispute with the iconic American motorcycle company Harley-Davidson. The first is that if Trump feels slighted, he’ll turn on allies in a New York minute (think Omarosa Manigault-Newman). The second is that his faithful followers will blindly follow along with this charade no matter whether it serves their interests or not.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “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.”
It was Trump’s seventh tweet attacking the company since late June. Trump claims Harley-Davidson is using his administration’s new steel and aluminum tariffs as an excuse to move manufacturing operations overseas. The company says its hand was forced by Europe’s response to the tariffs. So, who to believe?
Harley took a public relations risk to protect its bottom line when it said it would skirt European Union tariffs aimed directly at the industry in retaliation for Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum levies. Rather than eat the cost of the tariffs or raise prices on the bikes it sells in Europe by $2,200, the company said it would move some production overseas.
In a warning to other companies that might follow suit, Mr. Trump described Harley’s decision as an act of corporate treason, declaring in a Twitter post in June: “If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end — they surrendered, they quit!”
As the newspaper pointed out, Trump has managed to convince lifelong Harley devotees to follow his lead. Among others, the report cited Gary Rathbun, a 67-year-old retired truck driver who has owned 40 Harleys in his life. But following Trump’s orders, Rathbun says he’ll never buy another bike from the company.
“Like many of Harley’s most loyal customers, Mr. Rathbun was enraged by the company’s announcement this summer that, because of the Trump administration’s trade fight, it would begin manufacturing the bikes it sells in Europe outside the United States,” the Times wrote.
But Harley-Davidson can be forgiven for wanting to protect its market in Europe. Last year, retail sales in the U.S. fell for the third consecutive year while international sales have been growing, according to the Times.
All of this serves as a backdrop for another of Trump’s political stunts, which involved hosting members of the New Jersey Bikers for Trump chapter on Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, where the president is vacationing.
As Trump wrote on Twitter, it was “Quite a scene.” He described the bikers as people who “truly love our Country.” More importantly for the president, these are people who truly love Trump.
The photos of the gathering, shared by Trump, also are quite a sight:
The best part of all of this is an anecdote shared by the Times, which caught up with Chris Cox, founder of Bikers for Trump. Cox has organized rallies across the country to support Trump and his attacks on Harley.
Here’s its description of that interaction:
But even Mr. Cox, a South Carolina chain saw artist who carves trees and other objects, could not escape the realities of global supply chains and the high cost of making some products in the United States. While he used to sell American-made T-shirts, the $20 Trump shirts he was selling outside his R.V. were made in Haiti. The American-made shirts proved to be a hard sell.
“If I get a T-shirt made in the U.S.A., it’s going to cost about $8 more,” Mr. Cox said. “I looked far and wide to try to get a shirt made in America, it’s just they get you, they gouge you.”