President Trump on Tuesday threatened the iconic motorcycle company Harley-Davidson with severe taxes and predicted a public revolt that he said would eventually put the 115-year-old firm out of business, blasting the Wisconsin company for a plan to move some operations outside the United States as a way to avoid getting caught in the middle of an escalating trade war.
Trump also accused Harley-Davidson, without providing any evidence, of intentionally misleading Americans by saying the firm was moving some operations out of the United States in response to new tariffs imposed by the European Union.
The intensity of these attacks, which he typically reserves for political opponents, came in Twitter posts.
He alleged that Harley-Davison’s Monday announcement that it would move some more operations outside the United States was long planned and that it was using Europe’s new tariffs as an excuse. He threatened to hit the company with an unspecified tax if it attempted to sell motorcycles in the United States that were made outside the country.
Harley-Davidson had long planned to open a new plant in Thailand, a decision that predated the trade war between Trump and the leaders of a number of other countries. But the firm said Monday that it was shifting more production overseas specifically to blunt the impact of the tariffs imposed by Europe.
These E.U. tariffs on specific U.S. products were imposed in retaliation against Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the E.U.
Tuesday marked Trump’s second straight day of leveling attacks at Harley-Davidson. The company’s announcement sparked a massive sell-off in the stock market amid fears that other companies might follow suit, worried about getting caught in the middle of Trump’s trade war with Europe, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan and possibly India.
In his Tuesday morning Twitter posts, Trump wrote that “Harley must know that they won’t be able to sell back into the U.S. without paying a big tax!”
It was unclear what he meant. He has threatened such a tax since the 2016 campaign, but he hasn’t imposed one, and Congress has blocked his efforts to craft such a tax. He could be referring to the tariffs he is attempting to unilaterally impose on imports.
It was also unclear what he was referring to in this post:
In fact, Trump has tried to threaten numerous countries with tariffs if they do not reduce their own tariffs and other trade barriers, but so far most of those discussions have ended in acrimony and frustration. Numerous countries are moving forward with retaliatory tariffs against the United States, such as the ones European leaders have leveled at Harley-Davidson, to try to exert political pressure on Trump to back down.
Trump also suggested Tuesday morning that his adversarial approach to trade policy had only begun.
The completion of the study Trump cited could logistically provide him with a means to unilaterally impose tariffs on automobiles manufactured in Europe and shipped to the United States, potentially driving up the costs of cars made in Germany, for example. Trump has said he will follow through on these tariffs unless European leaders agree to remove tariffs they have on U.S. auto imports, but so far Europe’s leaders have mostly shown signs of meeting Trump’s tariffs with tariffs of their own.