The first all-digital Democratic National Convention is taking place this week, and one of the speakers will be Rick Telesz — a 62-year-old dairy and soybean farmer in Western Pennsylvania who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 but is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden in 2020.
Telesz' appearance is important for a number of reasons. First, Pennsylvania is a crucial swing state. Second, Telesz is among the registered Democrats who crossed party lines in 2016 and did not support that year's Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. 2016 had its "Trump Democrats" just as 1980 and 1984 had their "Reagan Democrats" — although the Reagan Democrats were much more plentiful. Trump, unlike Reagan, lost the popular vote by almost 3 million.
In 2016, Telesz bought into Trump's pseudo-populism. The Pennsylvania farmer recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that four years ago, he believed Trump would "drain the swamp" and "look after the working man," but he now feels betrayed.
"He's a hell of a salesman — and a tremendous con man," Telesz said of Trump. "He conned me."
According to Telesz, Trump's trade war with China has been terrible for business.
"Is farming going to disappear tomorrow?," Telesz told the Gazette. "No, but if these trends continue, I could very possibly be the last generation on this family farm . . . It will disappear. It cannot sustain."
Telesz, in 2019, told an ABC affiliate, "When you start taking a 20% cut, it can be very stressful. It is stressful."
Pennsylvania — like Michigan and Wisconsin — was among the Rust Belt states that went to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but went to Trump in 2016. Trump's narrow victory in the Keystone State was a shocker, as it marked the first time a Republican presidential candidate had won that state since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Telesz is also critical of Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has killed more than 170,000 people in the United States and over 775,900 people worldwide. The farmer recently told the New Castle News that although "you can't blame anyone for the virus," Trump was "totally incompetent in not informing the public earlier of what was coming."