Last Updated Feb 8, 2017 5:35 PM EST
The latest company to find itself in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s Twitter activism? The retailer Nordstrom (JWN).
Mr. Trump criticized the retailer in a tweet on Wednesday morning, accusing it of treating his daughter, Ivanka, “so unfairly.” The president’s official Twitter account then retweeted Mr. Trump’s initial complaint about two hours later.
Nordstrom said last week it would stop carrying the Ivanka Trump line of clothing and accessories, citing poor sales.
The retailer’s move came after a months-long consumer campaign dubbed GrabYourWallet that urges shoppers to boycott companies that carried Trump-branded merchandise.
Nordstrom shares dipped a negligible 20 cents a share on the initial tweet, rebounding soon after and closing the day up 4 percent.
Nordstrom last week emphasized in a statement the non-political nature of its decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line. “Each year we cut about 10% and refresh our assortment with about the same amount. In this case, based on the brand’s performance we’ve decided not to buy it for this season,” a spokesperson for the retailer said.
The Ivanka Trump company issued a statement the following day emphasizing the brand’s growth without explicitly mentioning Nordstrom’s move or its potential damage. “The Ivanka Trump brand continues to expand across categories and distribution with increased customer support, leading us to experience significant year-over-year revenue growth in 2016,” said the statement from Rosemary Young, senior director of marketing.
Before the presidential inauguration, Ivanka Trump said she would turn over management of her business to Abigail Klem, its chief brand officer.
On Wednesday, users on Twitter immediately replied to the president. Some criticized his weighing in on a private business while in office, while others called for a boycott of Nordstrom. Observers pointed out that based on the timing of the tweet, it may well have been sent while Mr. Trump was receiving his scheduled intelligence briefing -- a charge White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied.
Speaking with journalists at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Spicer also defended the president’s tweet, saying that Nordstrom’s decision to remove Ivanka Trump products was a “direct attack on his policies.”
“I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success,” Spicer said.
Nordstrom, in a statement that soon followed Spicer’s comments, repeated that the decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line was “based on performance.”
“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,” the statement read. “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 presidency has raised unprecedented concerns about ethical conflicts, the Associated Press reported. His plan to separate himself from his sprawling real estate business has been criticized by ethics experts, who say it doesn’t do enough to make sure that Trump won’t make decisions to personally benefit himself, his family or his company.
Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, said the Nordstrom tweet is problematic because other retailers may think twice now about dropping the Ivanka Trump brand for fear of getting criticized publicly by the president. She said it was especially disturbing that Trump retweeted his message on the official White House account.
“The implicit threat was that he will use whatever authority he has to retaliate against Nordstrom, or anyone who crosses his interest,” said Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Clark defended the president’s right to use his personal Twitter account to express his views, however, pointing out that government workers at the EPA recently set up alt-EPA accounts to criticize the president’s policies. “A government employee, even a president, is allowed to tweet in his personal capacity,” she told the AP.