A Wisconsin dairy farmer, a Maine lobsterman and others provided firsthand testimonials Tuesday night as Republicans sought to put a spotlight on President Donald Trump’s trade policy and overall handling of the economy.
“More than any president, he has acknowledged the importance of farmers and agriculture,” said Cris Peterson, who runs a dairy farm in Grantsburg Wis., with her husband, Gary.
Speaking at the second night of the Republican National Convention, Peterson said that Wisconsin was “in the middle of the Great Depression” for dairy farmers when Trump took office in 2016, and then in 2017 the Petersons' milking barn burned down.
She said they rebuilt the operation in 2018 with confidence that Trump’s ag policy and his “focus on negotiating new trade deals” would keep the operation viable.
She also praised Trump for his efforts to keep the food supply chain going amid the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Many people probably don’t realize that our country is one of few in the world that produces nearly all of its own food. Fewer still understand how close our food production and distribution system came to collapsing this past spring,” she said.
“But President Trump understood and again took steps to provide the support we needed. President Trump took the necessary action knowing that agriculture is our backbone and strength, critical to our national security.”
Wisconsin dairy farms have continued to struggle through Trump’s term. The state has consistently had the highest farm bankruptcy rate in the nation, which experts attribute to the struggles of smaller dairy operations to remain competitive.
Some 69 Wisconsin farms filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy for the 12 months ending June 2020. The next closest state in total filings was Nebraska with 38, according to data compiled by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
At least week’s Democratic National Convention, speakers continually criticized Trump’s trade policy, saying that his tariff war with China had harmed farmers in particular. But Trump argues that his trade policy appeals to rank-and-file voters, and polls indicate that Trump’s handling of the economy gives him an advantage against the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.
Jason Joyce, the Maine lobsterman, credited Trump for getting the European Union to lift its tariffs on lobsters as part of a recent deal in which the U.S. agreed to cut duties on some European products. Joyce also praised the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back regulations.
“As long as Trump is president, fishing families like mine will have a voice,” he said. “But if Biden wins, he’ll be controlled by the environmental extremists who want to circumvent long-standing rules and impose radical changes that hurt our coastal communities."
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John Peterson, owner of a metal fabrication business called Schuette Metals in Rothschild, Wis., praised Trump for negotiating the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which Peterson said will ensure “a more competitive playing field for American companies like ours. … (Trump) knows when the game isn’t rigged against us, nobody can beat the American worker and the American entrepreneur.”
Bob Vlaisaljevich — mayor of Eveleth, a town of about 1,600 residents on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range — praised Trump for imposing tariffs on imported steel to protect the U.S. industry.
“He lowered our high taxes. He rolled back the job-killing regulations. He got rid of the bad trade deals and replaced them with deals that put our interests first,” Vlaisaljevich said. “The Trump administration’s policies mean that with the discovery of new mineral deposits, the use of innovative mining processes, and the growth of our domestic and global markets, we have the chance to grow and diversify our economy.”
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