In an unlikely (and exceedingly amusing) turn of events, Harley-Davidson is now vying with Robert Mueller and sharks when it comes to screen time in Donald Trump’s nightmares.
Just weeks after the inauguration, the Wisconsin-based motorcycle maker was trotted out by the new administration as a poster child for American manufacturing – a quintessential example of iconic American brands.
The President invited executives to the White House for what amounted to a photo op that found Trump and Mike Pence posing by various Harley models and pretending to care about motorcycles.
(Trump and Pence with Harley Davidson executives on the South Lawn of the White House; Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)
“So it’s great to have Harley-Davidson, what a great, great group of people and what a fantastic job you do”, Trump said at the event, before reminding everyone why they were actually there:
And thank you for all of the votes you gave me in Wisconsin.
But Trump’s relationship with Harley soured late last month when the company announced that due to the expected impact of retaliatory tariffs, some production would be moved overseas in order to ensure unfettered access to the European market.
Although Harley lowered estimates for how large of an impact it expects from the tariffs in 2018 when the company reported second quarter earnings earlier this week, management still sees tariffs levied by the European Union costing it $30-35 million for the balance of the year (down from previous estimates of $30-45 million).
When the company first announced plans to move some production to Europe last month, Trump was beside himself. Over the course of several days, the President attacked the company on Twitter, at one point threatening to impose punishing taxes and suggesting the White House would actively promote Harley’s competitors.
“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!”, Trump shrieked, on June 26, before elaborating as follows:
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!
Amid the one-sided war of words, some Harley employees kept the faith, suggesting that Trump was just trying to do what’s best for America.
At one point during his days-long tirade, Trump attempted to cite the company’s plans to close a Kansas City plant as evidence that Harley was already plotting to do something treasonous prior to the tariffs (this effort to blame management has been ramped up of late, with Peter Navarro accusing Harley of “speaking through forked tailpipe” and Larry Kudlow suggesting that management teams are using the tariff excuse to cover up bad execution).
Well now, Democrats have made a video citing that Kansas City plant closure as evidence that Trump’s policies are not, in fact, delivering as promised for the American worker. To make matters worse, the DNC seems to have noticed that Harley announced its intention to buy back some $700 million worth of stock just days after breaking the bad news about the plant closure. Watch this:
That buyback announcement is dated February 5, which means it came less than a week after the following was published in The Kansas City Star:
About 800 workers will lose their jobs when Harley-Davidson Inc. closes its Kansas City motorcycle assembly plant in the fall of 2019
Tuesday’s announcement to investors was a complete surprise to employees, three fourths of whom are represented by one of two unions.
“They didn’t even give us a call ahead of time,” said Joe Capra, directing business agent for Local 778 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers. “It is real devastation for these people who work here and work hard in the Kansas City area.”
The plant’s production is being shifted from the factory near Kansas City International Airport to one in York, Pa.
To be clear, the juxtaposition between the buyback announcement and the layoffs isn’t something that only the DNC noticed. This was front page news months ago, but the fact that it’s now part of a Democratic campaign video suggests that in the months ahead of the midterm elections, the President is going to get hit hard over the record corporate buybacks his tax cuts catalyzed in the first half of 2018.
Unfortunately for the White House, Democrats will also be able to draw on a virtually limitless supply of sad quotables from industrial workers and, worse, from farmers, whose livelihoods are in danger thanks to the trade war.
Who knows, maybe Trump can lean on his new catchphrase which, for those who missed it, is this: