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RCP Newsmaker Interview with Dan Coats

RCP Newsmaker Interview with Dan Coats

By RealClearPolitics - May 12, 2010

RCP: We'll start by asking what your thoughts are on the Kagan nomination, and how you might vote if you were in the Senate right now.

COATS: Well, obviously I'm not in the Senate right now, so I'm not going to have access to all the information that I would like to have in terms of assessing someone's qualifications and abilities.

After my experience with Alito I really start with the premise that the most important thing is the individual's faithfulness to the Constitution. I think no one could have expressed it better or adhered to it more than Judge Alito. Of course, I was privileged to be close to that. Not to take anything away from any of the other Supreme Court justices, and particularly Justice Roberts, who I think expresses the same thing. Seeing the Constitution as the Constitution, written by our Founding Fathers, one of the most brilliant documents ever produced in the history of civilization. To see people say, "It's a living document and times have changed and everything's evolved, and therefore we have to be different with our interpretation of these things than the founders -- than the Constitution specifically says," that opens a Pandora's Box with no end in sight. So you'd end up then having a Supreme Court, or justices advocating for ideologies, for changes they think the Congress should have made but didn't make, and I think exceeding their Constitutional duties to be adjudicators of the law and not makers of the law, to defend the Constitution not rewrite the Constitution. See it as a document that has stood the test of time and has to be strictly interpreted in terms of what it says, rather than loosely interpreted to mean something that it doesn't say.

So that's the foundational standard which I would use to assess this nominee, and any nominee - whether it's a Republican-appointed nominee or a Democratic nominee. That's what I think the Senate should do. I won't be there to articulate that. I think that's probably what the result of the Alito/Roberts confirmation hearings have demonstrated to Republicans - that this whole idea of, "Well the president has the prerogative of choosing who he wants," and ideology, and loose interpretation is okay - I think those days are over. That standard used to be: give the president his prerogative and if they were experienced ... . But now, Democrats have not adhered to that standard. I saw them trash Alito. If that's the game they want to play, that's the game we'll have to play. So we'll see how Kagan stands up against that.

I'm going to watch very carefully to see what she says. She has very little record. And so unfortunately it's more of what she says, not more of what she has done. You know, I have an opponent who says one thing and does another. It's easy for a nominee to say something that sounds right and moderate, whatever, as opposed to doing something. That's the problem with appointing someone who doesn't have a record.

The irony is that Harriet Miers, the original appointee, was soundly criticized for not having a record with which to judge.

RCP: Do you see the comparison? People are making that comparison?

COATS: Yeah. We have the same situation in terms of record. It's not as if Harriet came out of nowhere. She was the first woman president of the Dallas Bar Association, the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association - not necessarily the kind of state - a macho, male dominated state. Counseled the president at the White House. And a woman of substantial personal experience and not judicial experience. So there are similarities here. It's ironic that the same Democrats who were trashing Harriet Miers for not having judicial experience are saying it doesn't matter. That's life in the big city.

RCP: Given what you see happening in other primaries across the country and the political environment, do you feel fortunate to have won your race last week?

COATS: Yeah. I am grateful that the people, Republicans in Indiana thought that I should be the one to carry the message. But it was earned through an extensive primary season, very different than what Senator Bennett went through in a convention with limited number of people. It was earned through dozens of debates, forums, placing ourselves in front of Hoosiers, giving them a clear choice of any of the five of us. I was gratified to have a solid win and carry it forward. I'm also gratified that my four opponents rallied around and said we're going to forward because the real goal is to replace an enabling Democrat, an Obama-enabling Democrat with an Obama-opposing Republican. That's what Hoosiers I think are looking for.

RCP: Given the toxic environment inside the Capitol, why do you want to go back to that?

COATS: That's a big question for me. Look, you have 20 years of public service. You left with a solid reputation. You're enjoying the fruits of your labors. Obviously not going back for the money. You're not going back for the title. Not going back to advance your career, position yourself for the post-Senate. Why are you doing this? That's asked by everyone from top to bottom.

The answer is that when it appeared that Senator Bayh was not going to have a real contest, two of our top people decided not to run against him - Mike Pence and our Secretary of State, who's running for Congress - it looked to me at the time like Senator Bayh was going to have pretty much an easy time to go back. And I was frustrated that he was saying one thing but doing another. He was the 60th senator. Every Democrat was the 60th senator. One person could have stood up and said no, prevented the Obama liberal agenda from going forward. And he didn't.

So I thought that he deserved a real race, and that's why I got in - never realizing that he would less than two weeks later announce his retirement. So that sort of changed the whole dynamics. But back then, the word was that race had been checked off. Nobody had the statewide name ID. Nobody had run and won statewide before. Nobody could possibly raise the money and compete with Evan Bayh. I thought that I could.

Bottom line is, my frustration is the same frustration of the tea partiers and conservatives everywhere, Republicans, moderates and even Democrats. The direction this country is going is - this isn't just a concern, it's a fear. A fear that the debt we're mounting up, the deficit we're using every year and the massive expansion of the federal government is going to undermine our country and undermine our future. On foreign policy issues, on which I've had a lot of experience, a president running around the world apologizing for America was just unacceptable to me. This foreign policy of hug your enemies and they'll come our way is naïve and dangerous in a very challenging world environment right now.

So all of these things prompted me to say our nation is in crisis and somebody's got to step up. I'm willing to make major sacrifices to do that. Bottom line is, I'm not looking to go back to the Senate. But I'm going back I think for the right reasons.

RCP: Do you think the Senate is still a place where business can be done? How do you see it's changed since your time there?

COATS: Dramatically. During a time of surplus, a time of peace before 2001, it was much easier to try and find middle ground. We were running surpluses. But during a time when we're careening into bankruptcy and failing miserably on our foreign policy it's just not the same old "find consensus, go along to get along, be pragmatic, come together" place that it was. I think that some very hard decisions and very hard choices have to be made. They won't be popular, but they're necessary.

RCP: You had a record working across the aisle, voting on some Clinton policies -

COATS: Some.

RCP: -- and Senator Lugar also has a reputation as well of doing that. It sounds though now that you might consider yourself a reliable vote against the administration. Is that fair to say?

COATS: You can count on it. You can take that to the bank. That's what the people of Indiana want. That's what I want. None of us ever imagined an administration, a presidency, that in spite of one of the worst economic downturns in this country's history - record unemployment - that the leadership would be advancing a liberal agenda of massive new spending, massive new expansion of government and not focusing on getting the economy back on track and getting people back to work. Just inconceivable. And so if I'm elected, I'll be a major voice of opposition to what this administration is trying to do.

RCP: Indiana voted for the president. What has changed?

COATS: What's changed is that Indiana has seen the real face of this president. Agenda is a better word - they've seen the agenda of this president. And that's not what they voted for -- particularly at time of economic distress, for a major expansion - that's not what they voted for. That crosses the spectrum, from tea partiers, from Republicans to moderates and even conservative Democrats.

RCP: Let's say Republicans win the House and pick up six to nine seats in the Senate. How do you see the legislative process working? Will there be more bipartisan crafting of bills?

COATS: Only if the Democrats come on board and say that we're at a time of fiscal crisis, and it's no time to impose new spending programs. It's no time to raise taxes in an economic downturn. We've all had to trim, to adapt to the economy. Government has not. Government has to. So to the extent that conservative Democrats or Democrats get the message and support it, then yeah, we can work together. To the extent that they want to continue to follow the leadership of Obama, Pelosi and Reid, there's no way, no way we can work together.

RCP: You think Congressman Ellsworth would keep that going?

COATS: I thought for sure he would flip and vote against health care. That vote for health care both undermined his so-called conservative position on spending and the role of the government, as well as his pro-life credentials. He made the decision to support it two days before Stupak cut the so-called deal with the president. A lot of people from his district have told me, "I voted for the guy, I trusted him, but he let us down. When push came to shove, Obama and Pelosi had more pull than we had back home."

RCP: Do you know him well?

COATS: No I don't. From what I know, he's a good guy. Was popular with his constituents until he came to Washington. I don't want it to be a personality race - I won't make it a personality race. I'm not questioning his motives. I'm simply saying that he is on the wrong team and he's listening to the wrong team.

RCP: What's your assessment of his strengths as a candidate and what kind of race do you expect from him?

COATS: I expect it will be a vigorous statewide race. He'll be well supported by a lot of outside groups. But I don't know how much support he'll have from Hoosiers because I think his record is not representative of the majority of the state of Indiana. So we're prepared to go toe-to-toe until November and let Hoosiers make their choice.

RCP: After you won your primary we all noted Democrats referred to you as senator, a lobbyist, someone with close ties to DC -

COATS: They'd like to do that. Well they'd like to do that. The irony is that I'm the challenger. Been out 12 years. I'm the challenger applying for the job and he's the incumbent trying to hold on to the job. Right now, people are upset with what's happening in Washington now with these incumbents, a lot more than someone who served 12 years ago.

RCP: So even though he's only been in Congress for two terms, you see him in Hoosiers minds as firmly part of the Washington establishment more so than yourself.

COATS: I do. And I think Hoosiers will. Regardless of what he's done before, what the [voters] are concerned about is not what you did before but what's happening now. What's happening now, and his support of it, goes against what he said he would do, what he thought he would do, and what Hoosiers are going to do.

RCP: How do you see the next few months playing out? Is there anything that the president can do to save the party, reverse what seems to be a very favorable environment for Republicans?

COATS: I thought there might have been a chance after Massachusetts. But when the president doubled down and said we're going for more, it was clear to me that they said, "We've got the votes now and we're going to enact as much of this liberal agenda as we can, regardless of the consequences in the fall. This is our one shot and we're going to do it whether the public likes it or not." That's the message that came across to me. It's almost arrogant. It was an arrogant State of the Union address, because clearly he was not listening to the voice of the people.

He dismisses those who have a different opinion, and basically implies that we don't know enough to understand, we're not smart enough to understand why he's doing what he's doing. Then when he berated the Supreme Court, that was one of the most offensive things I have ever seen in my lifetime. It showed me he had no respect for the Constitution and separation of powers. It injected pure ideology into a process where the Supreme Court of American had ruled on a Constitutional question, and not ruled in the political way that he wanted. To publicly redress them before a nationwide TV audience in a State of the Union address when they came out of respect to sit in that front row and then do what he did - it's unbecoming of a president of the United States to do that. Unbecoming.

RCP: One of the things we also heard in this speech was that the problems the nation faces are not new, he inherited. How much do Republicans and the last administration have a responsibility for the state of the nation.

COATS: Everybody has some responsibility. The point is, how are we going to fix it? And you don't fix it simply by blaming the other guy, or blaming the past. Every president inherits difficult problems. George W. Bush inherited eight years of a failed foreign policy and did nothing about the growing threat of Islamic terrorism, except a one-time lob of a cruise missile into the desert at a camp that had long been abandoned. George Bush inherited that, and 9-11 was the result of that. Every president inherits problems. Harry Truman inherited a war. Stop blaming the person before you and go forward and take leadership and deal with the problem.

RCP: Elkhart, Indiana has become symbolic of the economy. Having talked to some of the people there they see that the stimulus has had some impact, things are starting to turn around. What might have you done differently, and how would you work to restore manufacturing in places like that?

COATS: Get the economy back on track. When people are working and they're making money, many of them choose a lifestyle of having an RV. Nobody is more involved in that manufacturing process than Elkhart County. It's also been a place of innovation, a lot of creativity, a lot of small businesses. Right now the economic situation is such that no one can see the future with any sense of confidence. Therefore, they're not hiring even though the economy has picked up. I've been there several times, talked to business people. They say, "I can't hire because I don't know what the future looks like." Even three months out or six months out, there's so much uncertainty here.

All we hear is more regulation, more taxes. And we don't see a sound economic plan, getting us back to work. So getting the right policies in place to enable businesses to do what they do and enable consumers to purchase what they want to purchase is key to Elkhart coming back and any other place.

RCP: Things like GDP growth - statistical signs - you don't think we've seen the worst yet?

COATS: It's not that there isn't an uptick. There is an uptick. It's resulting in better sales. But it's not resulting in confidence that it's going to continue. As long as people think new programs are coming down the line like cap and trade, which devastates Indiana manufacturers and consumers, such as amnesty for illegals, which affects the job market for Americans - until they see a more certain path to prosperity, they're not making decisions to expand, to hire, to invest.

RCP: Your governor has gotten some credit for the things he's done in Indiana -

COATS: Well deserved.

RCP: How do you think his record stacks up if he decided to run for president?

COATS: If you look at his record, it stands out there with some amazing accomplishments at a time of real distress. Here's a state surrounded by states going bankrupt, can't pay the bills. A state with a AAA credit rating, balanced budget, without raising taxes, and positioned to really profit from an economic rebound. Major cutbacks in government spending, which is very encouraging to people. Cap on tax increases. I mean, it's a remarkable story. So if the country is looking for competence and experience and been-there-done-that success, it'll be pretty hard to find someone better than Mitch Daniels.

RCP: He had seemed cool to the idea but now he seems like he's warming up to it. Have you talked to him? Do you think it is something he's considering it?

COATS: I think he's considering it with some seriousness, but a long way away from making a decision. Testing the waters.

RCP: You were the ambassador to Germany. Looking at what's happening in Europe right now, what's your reaction?

COATS: It's amazing. You could see this coming. There's no way they could continue the socialist state, cradle-to-grave government support. It had taken away work incentive. It had raised taxes to the point where people didn't have discretionary spending. They had reached more than the limit of what government could do. Now, it's caught up to them.

And the irony to me is that these states that were moving toward a social welfare system are now saying it doesn't work. And we've got to move the other way. We can't sustain that. But we, Obama, is trying to find their model. And it's a failed model. People there I talk to are scratching their heads and saying, "Why in the world would you want to be like us when what we need to do is be more like you?" It's like the world's been turned upside down.

Europe is in a crisis. It simply can't sustain it. My favorite quote is Margaret Thatcher's. She said the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of everyone else's money.

RCP: You talked about outside groups coming into the state in your race. Is there anyone you would look to, to come in and campaign with you?

COATS: I can't do that, I can't coordinate anything like that. I've always been for, "Let us run our own race." We'll do our thing and you do your thing. Groups come in what they think are the right intentions, on both sides. But that might not be the message you want sent. But that's the reality of where we are these days.

And so, no, I'm not looking forward to outside intervention. I'd just like to run our own race and let the people decide. But that's not the way it'll be. So you hope that they come in and they're reinforcing your message rather than your own guys trying to help but not with the same message.

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