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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.

If you’re planning to hold your nose when you vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election, you’re not alone. U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., isn’t pleased with the candidates, either.

“I wake up every morning, and the first question I ask is, what did he say last night?” Coats told me as we discussed Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Our conversation at Valparaiso University was a day after the release of a damning video that showed Trump saying disgusting things about women.

Coats said he was blissfully unaware of the video while attending a Chicago Cubs game that day at Wrigley Field. Then someone wanted to talk politics and ripped Coats’ attention away from his beloved Cubs. That’s when he found out about the video.

The man told Coats, oh, but that was 11 years ago. “And I said, yeah, but what about last month?”

This strange, bitter presidential campaign has taken over the lives of every American, it seems.

“I can’t get away from it for one day to go watch the Cubs in a playoff game,” Coats said.

I mentioned Hoosier political analyst Brian Howey’s characterization of Trump as the drunk uncle in the attic. Coats laughed, but he didn’t disagree.

That doesn’t make Coats a Hillary Clinton fan, though, and he’s hardly a disciple of President Barack Obama.

Coats is among the many American voters dissatisfied with the direction the nation is headed. Trump’s candidacy and Bernie Sanders’ hard-fought campaign in the Democratic primary are proof many voters don’t want the status quo Clinton represents.

Trump represents change, but it’s difficult to tell what changes he would bring. Would it be better than Clinton or worse? The way he’s always on the attack. It’s easy to tell what he opposes, but it’s hard to figure out what he would do and how he proposes to accomplish it.

Trump needs to sell his policies, not just his disgust with Clinton and Obama.

Foreign policy

Diplomacy is not Trump’s strong point, a statement that ought to win me the understatement of the year award.

Coats, however, is a former ambassador to Germany. He knows how foreign relations work. That’s why he’s so worried about the nation’s performance on the world stage.

In February, Coats attended a security conference in Munich with about 120 heads of nations present.

“And literally, to a country, they said, ‘We cannot count on America’s leadership. We are too small and too weak to deal with Russia, to deal with these major problems. We’ve always turned to America as a leader, and we’ve always formed a coalition. But now we are not getting that leadership,'" Coats said.

“I’ve been to many of these security conferences, and frankly, I’ve never seen a one where the mood was as somber as it was then,” Coats said. “Heads of state were very, very concerned.”

So what do the top three presidential candidates offer? Democrat Clinton offers the status quo, which has other nations worried. But Republican Trump is an isolationist, and Libertarian Gary Johnson is isolationist on steroids.

Russia

Russia has been a factor in this campaign, with allegations it has been behind a cyberattack on the Democratic National Party and Hillary Clinton campaign’s computers. Trump then invited Russia to search Clinton’s computers to try to find controversial email messages.

Russia has also been more aggressive in Syria and elsewhere, asserting its role as a world power.

Coats has a unique perspective on Russia. He’s one of seven people Russian President Vladimir Putin banned from visiting after Coats made pointed remarks about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and the lack of an American response.

President Barack Obama’s failure to use force when Syrian President Bashar Assad crossed the “red line in the sand” that Obama drew set a precedent of U.S. inaction after decades of being the world’s policeman.

That, along with other U.S. actions in the Middle East, opened the door for Russian involvement.

“The best line I heard was — I forgot who said it — we’re playing marbles, and he’s playing chess,” Coats said, and Putin is always at least two moves ahead.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, rather than leaving a significant presence there the way the it did in South Korea, created a power vacuum that ISIS rushed in to fill. That group of “barbarians,” with its repulsive beheading videos on social media, has given Russia one more reason to get involved in the Middle East.

National debt

There’s another kind of vacuum to worry about — the one sucking up dollars to pay interest on the national debt.

“What neither one of the party leaders in this presidential race even want to talk about or mention is our continuing plunge into debt,” Coats said.

“At some point, those who lend the money are going to demand higher rates.”

With interest rates low now, it might be difficult to focus on debt reduction. The nation’s attention is being grabbed by the latest accusations leveled in this disgustingly uncivil campaign.

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But that debt is a looming crisis that needs to be addressed.

Coats said he asked former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan why anyone would continue loaning money to such a profligate spender as Uncle Sam.

“We’re the best-looking horse in the glue factory,” Greenspan replied, “but we’re still in the glue factory eventually.”

Social Security is another looming concern. It’s already paying out more than it’s taking in.

“Either there’s got to be a 30 percent cut or a 30 percent boost in revenue, and either way, it’s not good for the economy,” Coats said.

East Chicago lead crisis

The lead problem in East Chicago is another bureaucratic concern for Coats.

“Even though this is a long-term issue, we need to treat it like an emergency,” he said.

It’s an example of one agency not knowing what the other was doing. One declared it an environmental problem, while another allowed homes to be built upon.

Coats isn't pointing fingers of blame, however.

“This is above politics. Politics should have nothing to do with it.”

In fact, his staff is meeting weekly with staff members from U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, both Democrats.

They’re trying to find streams of revenue that would assist in relocating residents and mitigating the environmental disaster.

“This is a designated site with a limited number of people that need to be addressed, and it shouldn’t be that hard,” Coats said.

Despite all these major issues that need to be addressed, the presidential campaigns don’t seem to be paying attention.

“These big things are lurking out there, and we’re arguing over little stuff,” Coats said.

“This presidential election is turning into a nightmare.”

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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