By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s full-throttled love affair with Harley-Davidson motorcycles has been intertwined with his rising political career, but now he must cope with revved up criticism of the Milwaukee-based company from President Donald Trump.
The president on Tuesday 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 the tariffs he says Harley-Davidson could face on motorcycles produced overseas and shipped back to the U.S. for sale.
Walker has avoided directly criticizing Trump on the subject of tariffs, saying repeatedly 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 on Tuesday when asked about 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,”said Amy Hasenberg, a spokeswoman for Walker. “When there’s a level playing field, American workers and businesses win.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Janesville, also weighed in on Tuesday. Ryan said he doesn’t think tariffs “are the right way to go.” He didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name but said that tariffs are “basically taxes.”
Ryan said the U.S. should counter unfair trading practices, but added that, “There are better tools than tariff increases.”
Walker’s Democratic opponents — eight are running for a chance to take him on — meanwhile 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 announced in 2015 that he was running for president, about half of his stops in the first week were at Harley shops. At a presidential debate that year, the motorcycle-boot wearing Walker said his Secret Service nickname as president would be “Harley.”
In a video from October in support of his current re-election campaign, Walker is seen once again riding a Harley. At one point, he asks the viewer, “Are you with me?”
Trump made fun of Walker during the presidential race for his love of motorcycles. 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 invited the president last year to take a ride on a Harley after he had 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 troubles they are having selling motorcycles abroad.
Harley has also long lobbied against retaliatory tariffs, saying they would put the company at a disadvantage. Harley announced on Monday that it would move some of its production overseas in response to the retaliatory tariffs it would be faced with in the escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and the European Union.
Trump denied on Tuesday 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 a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the $10 billion factor Foxconn Technology Group is building 30 miles south of Milwaukee. The event was supposed to be a chance for Walker to draw attention to the Taiwanese company’s plans, which are expected to create as many as 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 on Tuesday, Walker tried to draw attention to Foxconn, tweeting: “Foxconn’s state-of-the-art products will be made in the U.S.A. — proudly in the state of Wisconsin!”