Harley-Davidson is just the latest U.S. company to weather a Trump tweet storm
President Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning that Harley-Davidson would be “taxed like never before” puts the Milwaukee motorcycle maker in a growing club of U.S. companies that have been singled out for criticism by the president.
Trump’s sentiments on Harley-Davidson come a day after the company said it would move some production out of the U.S. to avoid European Union tariffs levied in the increasing trade tensions between Europe and the U.S. Harley-Davidson had previously said it would close a Missouri plant and open one in Thailand after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Trump’s penchant for singling out U.S. companies — dating from when he was president-elect and called out the price of Boeing Co.’s Air Force One presidential plane — is “extremely unusual,” said Phil Levy, adjunct professor of strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“Part of the problem with it is, almost by definition, it means that you’re having fairly unequal treatment of companies by the government,” he said. “And we usually aim, as part of our rule of law, that companies will be treated equitably and not singled out or intimidated.”
Harley-Davidson did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweets, but Levy said most companies that have been targeted by Trump have chosen to ride out the storm. Their responses have included keeping mum, releasing bland statements and repackaging existing plans in a way that makes it seem like they’re responding to Trump.
“These companies do not want to get into a public dispute with the president,” Levy said. They “presume that this is probably a short-lived thing on the president’s part which, for the most part, has proven to be right.”
Here are some of the other companies that have been entangled in the president’s tweets.
General Motors Co.
Harley-Davidson isn’t the first U.S. company to be warned via Twitter of a potentially large tax penalty. In January 2017, Trump tweeted that automaker GM was sending “Mexican made” Chevrolet Cruze cars to U.S. car dealers “tax free across (the) border.”
“Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!” he tweeted.
GM pointed out at the time that nearly all Cruze vehicles sold in the U.S. were made in the U.S. and that the Chevy Cruze hatchbacks made in Mexico were destined for global markets, with only a “small number” sold in the U.S.
Two weeks later, GM said it would invest $1 billion in U.S. factories and add thousands of jobs. Though those plans had been in the works for years, and well before the election, a GM spokesman told the Associated Press that it was a good time to announce job creation in the U.S.
The e-commerce giant has been a recent, frequent subject of the president’s tweets, largely focused on Amazon’s tax payments and its effect on other U.S. retailers.
In March, Trump tweeted that the Seattle company pays “little or no taxes to state & local governments” and was “putting many thousands of retailers out of business!”
Amazon collects sales taxes in states that have a sales tax or where the company has a physical facility. But sales tax was often not collected on purchases made through third-party sellers on Amazon’s site, which critics have said gave the e-commerce platform an edge.
That could change after the Supreme Court ruled last week that states and local governments could require the collection of sales tax on internet purchases, whether the retailers have physical presences in the area. The decision is expected to have a major effect on third-party sellers that operate on Amazon.
Trump critics speculate that his ire toward Amazon is related to stories published in the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. He has called the newspaper “fake news” and described it as the “Amazon Washington Post.”
Aerospace giant Boeing was perhaps Trump’s earliest Twitter target. He tweeted in December 2016 that costs for the presidential transport planes the company was building were “out of control” at “more than $4 billion” and called for the order to be canceled.
Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg later met with the president and told reporters afterward that the two Air Force One planes would be built for less than $4 billion — the price tag Trump had zeroed in on in his tweet. The 747 jumbo jets are modified to include special characteristics, including a self-defense system, a communications suite and other structural changes designed to protect the president and others for extended periods of time.
In February, the White House said it had reached an “informal deal” with Boeing to produce the planes for $3.9 billion and that “thanks to the president’s negotiations,” more than $1.4 billion was shaved off the price tag. That would place original cost estimates at more than $5 billion. But an aviation analyst said at the time that cost estimates for the two planes were always expected to be about $4 billion.
Lockheed Martin Corp.
The aerospace giant was first called out in December 2016, when Trump tweeted that the cost of its F-35 fighter jet was “out of control” and that “billions of dollars” could and would be saved after he was inaugurated. Though Lockheed Martin was not explicitly named in the tweet, shares of the Bethesda, Md., company’s stock quickly dropped shortly after.
Trump later tweeted that he had asked Boeing to “price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet” because of the “tremendous cost and cost overruns” of the F-35. The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet is an older-generation U.S. Navy plane whose design limits its ability to evade radar, while the F-35 is stealthy and comes in three variants that meet the specialized needs of the Air Force, Marines and Navy.
A month later, Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson told reporters that the company talked to Trump about the F-35 program and was hashing out a new deal to cut costs and add U.S. jobs. As in the case of GM and Boeing, it was unclear what had really changed: Lockheed Martin and industry analysts had already expected that the price of each plane would fall as more were built and the program matured.
Time Warner Inc.
Last month, Trump tweeted that his administration’s antitrust division “has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner.”
The Justice Department had sued to block the merger, arguing that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner would eliminate competition in the pay-TV market and increase consumer prices. But a federal judge cleared the way for the acquisition this month.
Time Warner’s assets include HBO, TNT and CNN. Trump has frequently criticized CNN on Twitter for its coverage, leading to speculation that the Justice Department’s objections were fueled by the president’s tension with the cable news network.
Trump suggested in October that NBC lose its broadcast licenses after the network aired several critical stories about his administration.
In a tweet, the president mulled, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
But licenses are issued to local stations, and it would be difficult to challenge a license on the grounds of unfair or biased coverage.
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