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Wednesday, August 10, 2016 9:03 am

Coats' support for Trump unwavering

Brian Francisco | Washington editor

Don’t expect Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., to become a Donald Trump defector any time soon.

As the list of current and past Republican officials opposed to Trump’s presidential bid continues to grow – Maine Sen. Susan Collins and 50 former national security advisers are among the latest – Coats appears steadfast in his support for Trump.

"I think you have to measure everything in terms of what is the alternative," he said Tuesday morning in an interview while visiting Fort Wayne.

"People are faced with: Do you really want eight more years of what we’ve just had, and do you really want a president who we can’t trust, who has blatantly lied to us," Coats said in reference to, respectively, the Obama administration and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Some Republicans contend Trump is too ill-prepared, temperamental and even reckless to be president. Although acknowledging that Trump’s recent contentious remarks had "raised real concerns" in the party, Coats said a number of valid policy ideas have been obscured by his spontaneous speaking style.

For instance, Trump’s pledge to tear up trade agreements with other nations is a bargaining ploy, Coats insisted. He cited Trump’s stated intention to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.

"Basically, what he is saying is, we give the Chinese a chance to sit down and adjust (trade rules) because we can’t keep going at this current deficit level on trade without losing tons of American jobs. A lot of what I think he says is to set the stage for negotiations in a number of ways," Coats said over coffee at an east-side Fort Wayne Starbucks.

Coats, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and former ambassador to Germany, said Trump’s comments that the U.S. should not defend European nations that fail to pay their full financial obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is just another example of longtime frustration over America’s outsized role in the military alliance.

"I don’t mind Donald Trump putting some pressure on NATO, but even that was qualified, basically saying, ‘You’ve got to live up to your commitments here; if you’re going to have a strong NATO force, you guys have got to participate more.’ … We’re virtually carrying the whole load," Coats said.

He conceded that Trump tripped up when he said on ABC-TV’s "This Week" that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "not going into Ukraine" even though Russia had annexed the Crimea region of that country.

"He’s a businessman. … He’s going through a learning process, and he’s made some mistakes," Coats said about the New York real estate developer and former reality TV star.

The interview with Coats was conducted before Trump’s rally Tuesday in North Carolina where he claimed that Clinton wants to abolish gun rights and that if she is elected president and appoints judges, "nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day."

Trump foes took the comment to mean that he was suggesting the use of violence against Clinton, while the Trump campaign said he was referring to the voting power of "2nd Amendment people."

Coats earlier noted that the 50 former Republican national security advisers who signed a letter rebuking Trump’s candidacy were the same people involved in "well-intended foreign policy efforts" that "proved not to be successful" in Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations.

"So many of them I know and respect, but they are the past, and the country is looking for an agenda going forward," Coats said.

Coats said he and many Republicans gained confidence in Trump when he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.

"Mike has brought a seasoned, reasonable, reassuring voice to the ticket," he said.

Coats is the second member of Congress representing northeast Indiana to reinforce his support for Trump in the past week. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, said Thursday that he is among people who see "a lot of possibilities and a lot of potential with a President Trump."

Neither Coats nor Stutzman will return to Congress for the start of the next president’s term. Coats did not seek re-election, and Stutzman lost the GOP nomination for Coats’ Senate seat to Rep. Todd Young, R-9th.

The Evansville Courier & Press reported Tuesday that Coats, Stutzman and Young will be among the guests at a Monday fundraiser near Evansville for Trump and Pence. The newspaper reported that the minimum admission for a couple will be $10,000, with donation levels reaching as high as $250,000.

It reported other guests will include U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Larry Bucshon, gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Holcomb’s running mate, Auditor Suzanne Crouch.

bfrancisco@jg.net