Nov 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's attacks on American companies are on the ballot

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ira L. Black/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ira L. Black/Getty Images     

When President Trump first took office, there was lots of talk about "normalization."

The state of play: Today, American voters will either codify a new normal or relegate many of Trump's unconventional tactics to history's anomalous footnotes. Among them is browbeating and boycotting U.S. companies.

  • Trump began tweet-supporting boycotts well before he became president, including against Starbucks (for its infamous red holiday cups) and the maker of Oreos (because it was moving some production to Mexico).
  • He continued the practice after Inauguration Day, giving oxygen to grievances that ranged from policy (e.g., Harley-Davidson) to politics (e.g., Goodyear) to personal (e.g., pick a social media or mainstream media company).
  • Many of these tweets caused the target company's stock to sink, although the impacts were more pronounced earlier in Trump's term.

Joe Biden doesn't have the same type of history, either before or during the 2020 campaign. This isn't to argue that he's an uncritical friend to business — for example, he wants higher corporate taxes and shares some of Trump's animus toward Silicon Valley — but rather that his strikes would be of the more traditional, technocratic variety.

Flashback: Earlier this year, Trump made a false comment about a Fortune 500 company, related to an action it had taken. When I asked the company’s communications chief why he wouldn't comment on the record, he replied that it wasn’t worth the barrage of negative tweets that would likely follow. “We’d rather minimize the damage,” he explained.

The bottom line: We've stopped being shocked, or even surprised, when the White House attacks an American company by name. One question on the ballot today is if that change is permanent.

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