In January, days before President Trump’s inauguration, his daughter Ivanka Trump declared that she’d be stepping away from her management role at the clothing and shoe brand that bears her name.
And yet, on Wednesday, the president lashed out on Twitter at department store Nordstrom over its decision to stop carrying Ivanka Trump products, saying his daughter “has been treated so unfairly” by the retailing giant.
The social media missive adds to a cloud of confusion swirling around the Trump administration about how the family’s business interests are colliding with Trump’s job at the White House.
Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, defended Trump’s tweet to reporters during a briefing on Wednesday, saying “He has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”
Spicer also said, “This is a direct attack on his policies and her name.”
Nordstrom on Wednesday insisted the move was based on sales results, not politics.
“To reiterate what we’ve already shared when asked, we made this decision based on performance,” the company said in a statement. “Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now. We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we’ve seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”
Trump’s reproach of the company comes as a growing slate of retailers appear to be backing away from the Ivanka Trump brand. Neiman Marcus is no longer offering fine jewelry from the label on its website. Belk said on Wednesday that it is no longer selling Ivanka Trump merchandise online, though it continues to carry it in stores.
“We continually review our assortment and the performance of the brands we carry. We make adjustments as part of our normal course of business operations,” the department store chain said in a statement.
A campaign called Grab Your Wallet has been urging shoppers to boycott retailers and other companies connected with the Trump family business empire. It encourages consumers to stay away from retailers that carry Ivanka Trump products as well as businesses such as Trump wineries and golf courses.
President Trump’s adult children have been visible figures in the early days of their father’s administration. Ivanka Trump was at the table last week for a gathering of the president’s Business Advisory Council, a meeting that was attended by chief executives of corporate behemoths such as Walmart, PepsiCo and IBM. Her brothers, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., appeared recently at the event announcing Neil Gorsuch as President Trump’s pick for an open seat on the Supreme Court.
Moves like these have had critics asking how much distance there is between the president and his family’s business empire. His sons are running the Trump Organization during his presidency. And while Ivanka has taken a “formal leave of absence” from the Trump Organization, it’s not clear that she has relinquished her financial interests in it. President Trump has declined to divest his own stake in his business.
Richard Painter, a former chief White House ethics counsel under George W. Bush, called President Trump’s tweet about Nordstrom a “misuse of public office for private gains.”
“I have never seen a senior administration official lash out at a particular company based upon a strictly personal grudge,” Painter said in an e-mail. Painter is a professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota and is part of a team that has filed a lawsuit alleging that President Trump is violating a constitutional provision known as the emoluments clause, which forbids him from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.
The president’s criticism of Nordstrom exemplifies the uncharted territory that Corporate America finds itself in during the Trump era. During his campaign and since his election victory, Trump has not shied away from ripping into specific companies. He has criticized General Motors for making cars overseas, and suggested that an order from Boeing for a new Air Force One jet should be canceled because of its costs.
Perhaps as part of an effort to keep out of Trump’s crosshairs, big names such as Walmart and Amazon.com have touted their plans for creating thousands of jobs in the United States — catnip for a president who has pledged to be the country’s “greatest jobs president.” (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
Meanwhile, the fractious political climate has lit the fuse on several consumer boycotts, leaving big companies to try to unravel what these outcries actually mean for their reputations and bottom line.
For example, days after President Trump signed an executive order that barred refugees and others from seven majority-Muslim nations from coming to the United States, Starbucks announced that it planned to hire 10,000 refugees. On social media, calls quickly bubbled up for consumers to boycott Starbucks.
Uber, the ride-hailing company, saw more than 200,000 users delete the app from their phones after a “#DeleteUber” campaign sprang up on social media. It arose after the company said it was dropping its surge pricing during a protest at John F. Kennedy International Airport over Trump’s travel ban. Some interpreted that move as one that undermined a protest by taxi drivers who were staying away from the airport to show their disapproval of the ban.
And while Grab Your Wallet had encouraged shoppers to boycott Nordstrom for carrying Ivanka Trump apparel, now a new round of boycott talk is simmering that targets the department store chain, this time from shoppers who are outraged with the retailer for dropping the line.
It is hard to know whether President Trump’s Wednesday tweet will change the calculus for any retailers that may be weighing whether to continue to offer Ivanka Trump merchandise.
“They have to look at the sales trends as the overarching factor,” said Liz Dunn, chief executive of retail consultancy Talmage Advisors. They have to be careful about how they speak about it, and they have to make sure their decision is on performance, not politics.”
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that HSN had stopped selling Ivanka Trump’s line. The company said that it had at one time carried some Trump-branded home goods, but it has never sold Ivanka Trump products.