MADISON, Wis. >> Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s full-throttled love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles has been intertwined with his rising political career, but now he must navigate revved up criticism of the Milwaukee-based company from President Donald Trump.
The president today tweeted that if Harley goes through with its plans to move some production overseas, “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!”
Trump was referring to tariffs Harley-Davidson would face on motorcycles produced overseas and shipped back to the U.S. for sale.
Walker has avoided directly criticizing Trump on the issue, repeatedly saying instead that no tariffs would be good for Wisconsin manufacturers and farmers. He hasn’t spelled out what he would do to further that policy and his spokeswoman repeated that same position today when asked to react to Trump’s tweets.
“Governor Walker believes there should be no tariffs or trade barriers as the President stated earlier this month at the G7 summit,” Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said. “When there’s a level playing field, American workers and businesses win.”
Walker’s Democratic opponents — eight are running for a chance to take him on — pounced on the conflict.
“Wisconsin needs a governor who says Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot on every issue from immigration to trade policy,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. “I am saying it.”
Walker owns a 2003 Harley Road King motorcycle that he’s driven across the state to promote tourism and his own political ambitions. When Walker officially launched his presidential run in 2015, about half of his stops in the first week were at Harley shops and he exclusively wore motorcycle boots. At a presidential debate that year, the motorcycle-boot wearing Walker said his Secret Service nickname as president would be “Harley.”
In an October re-election campaign launch video touting his record, Walker rides his Harley and asks the viewer, “Are you with me?”
Trump made fun of Walker for his love of motorcycles during the presidential race. At a rally in Janesville in 2016, Trump said: “He doesn’t look like a motorcycle guy to me. I’m sorry.”
Walker and Trump made amends, and the governor last year invited the president to take a ride on a Harley after he canceled a visit to the company’s headquarters.
Harley executives later traveled to Washington for a meeting with Trump, who said they told him of the difficulty they faced selling motorcycles abroad.
Harley has also long lobbied against retaliatory tariffs, saying they put the company at a competitive disadvantage. Harley said Monday it came to its decision to move some production overseas because of retaliatory tariffs it faces in an escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and the European Union.
Trump denied today that his trade policy was to blame for Harley’s decision.
Trump will get a chance to comment on the situation in Wisconsin on Thursday, when he joins Walker for the groundbreaking of a Foxconn Technology Group factory 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Milwaukee, where Harley is based. The event was supposed to be a chance for Walker to highlight the Taiwanese company’s plans to invest up to $10 billion in the state and create 13,000 jobs.
But Trump’s comments on Harley could make for an awkward meeting with Walker, especially if the president renews his attacks. Instead of talking about Harley today, Walker tried to shift the focus to Foxconn, tweeting: “Foxconn’s state-of-the-art products will be made in the U.S.A. — proudly in the state of Wisconsin!”