Video: Exclusive: Ridge won’t run for Senate

updated 5/7/2009 6:35:51 PM ET 2009-05-07T22:35:51

On Thursday, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge joined Hardball to discuss his decision not to run for Senate.

Below is the complete transcript.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: Why aren't you running for senator from Pennsylvania?  For weeks, I've heard, Tom Ridge is coming.  He's going to knock the ex-Republican, Arlen Specter's, block off.  You're not doing it.  Why not?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER REPUBLICAN PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR:  Well, you know, Chris, because we've done this show a couple times, I've been a congressman 12 years and governor for 6 years, 9 months and 5 days,toughest personal and political decision I ever had to make. And at this time in my life, I decided that I can do what I want to do for my party, which I enthusiastically joined almost 40 years ago.  I prefer to do it as a private citizen, in addition to promoting other causes that are important to me.  Pure and simple.

MATTHEWS: Did you ever get a drift, from all the years you were a political partner of Arlen Specter, that he was not a Republican? Did you ever think he wasn't a Republican, he didn't have the heart for it, he didn't feel like one, didn't want to be one, that he was ready to jump?

RIDGE:  Well, if you believe, as I do, that the Republican Party has some basic principles, but we have to tolerate differences of opinion from time to time — I know I worked for him and literally thousands and thousands of Republican committee people in Pennsylvania worked very, very hard for him for 30 years. So we accepted him and his views as a Republican.

MATTHEWS: And you didn't believe he was a Democrat all these years pretending to be a Republican.

RIDGE: No, we accepted him. He ran as a Republican, we supported him as a Republican, and he was a Republican.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of somebody who says, I'll become a Republican if I win that first job of DA, and now has been a Republican as long as it has suited his purposes, and then admits publicly — I'm not saying this for him, he's saying it for himself — I quit the Republican Party because I was losing a poll, that it looked like I would lose the nomination next time. The party's no longer useful for me as a vehicle. I'm going to try the Democratic Party and say I'm a Democrat now.

RIDGE: Well, everybody has to make difficult decisions. I just made one and announced it today.


RIDGE: He obviously made one. What motivated him to take his beliefs to the other side of the aisle, I think you're going to have to ask him. From my point of view, I would have preferred to see him stay and fight for what he believed in as a Republican in the party that supported him literally for years.

MATTHEWS: Well, what does it feel like to be in the "First Wives Club"? That's what the Republican Party has become, as per Arlen Specter. It's a party to be dumped.

RIDGE: Well, I think that may be his perspective, but we think there's great opportunities not only in Pennsylvania in 2010 but long term. I mean, there are certain principles that guide us.  But frankly, I think we have to reshape our message, reduce the decibel level — we're a little bit too doggone shrill — and be less judgmental about those people within the party that may disagree with us from time to time.

As Mark Twain once said, what is it, The notice of my death is grossly exaggerated at this point. We've got a long way to go, but look out for 2010. I talked to John Cornyn today, Mitch McConnell.  I'm not going to be a candidate, but I will be involved in Pennsylvania. To the extent that people want to listen to me around the country as we rebuild the Republican Party back to a significant force that's not regional but national, I'm in.

MATTHEWS: OK. Governor Ridge, it's Hardball. Ready?

RIDGE: Got it.

MATTHEWS: The way they vote on the floor of the United States Senate is you have a little thing there. It says "aye" or "nay" on it.

RIDGE: Yea, nay.

MATTHEWS: There's only two ways.

RIDGE: Got it.

MATTHEWS: Yea or nay. OK? Which would have been your answer to the question of the stimulus bill?



RIDGE: Well, you know, I think there are ways that you could have targeted some of these...

MATTHEWS: Because Arlen was aye.

RIDGE:  Well, it could be. But I mean, as I took a look at the stimulus package, there were about 10 or 12 percent actually, I think, generated some kind of job creation. But I take a look at what — remember, my context begins in 1982. Inflation was double digit and employment was double digit and Ronald Reagan cut taxes, limited government, reduced some regs.  And there was a bit of a stimulus package, but my judgment is that these dollars were not focused to create commercial opportunities where people could actually grow — and grow jobs

I would have loved to have seen President Obama say, All-in energy plan. Let's build nuclear plants.  Let's do clean coal.


RIDGE: Let's do conservation. Let's do all these things. I'd loved to have seen him target it to life sciences and biosciences, target some of the stimulus to those areas. You're not picking winners or losers, but we know there is an international opportunity to deal with the environment, deal with the economy and create jobs at the same time. I think they missed the boat, so I voted no.

MATTHEWS: You talk like a moderate Republican, meaning you're a fiscal conservative mostly, but you don't call yourself a real conservative, do you.

RIDGE:  No, I'm...

MATTHEWS:  I never thought of you as a conservative per se.

RIDGE: I had a very, very conservative record when it came to spending other people's moneys. I mean, one of the principles that I've always felt the Republicans stood for is, as we look at your paycheck, it's yours, not ours. And I recognize that government has no money of its own, so I want to be respectful...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but you were not a hawk because — you're not a right-wing hawk.


MATTHEWS: I watched your voting record.

RIDGE: I'm not.

MATTHEWS: The reason Dick Cheney didn't back you for — well, you know all this history.


MATTHEWS: Why am I telling you?  The reason you weren't vice president for the last eight years is because you voted against the MX.

You thought it was wasteful. You had problems with High Frontier. Dick Cheney wanted a vote for all that stuff.  He got mad at you for that when he was defense chief, right?

RIDGE:  Well, I don't think he — he obviously...

MATTHEWS:  So it's not a — you were the true conservative, you would argue.

RIDGE: Well, I would argue...

MATTHEWS: Because you didn't want to waste the money.

RIDGE: I would argue that every vote, for me, was a reflection of what I thought was best for my country at the time.


RIDGE: And somebody said a long time ago — I think Jack Kemp said it best, that you represent your party best when you represent your best thinking. They bring you to Washington...


RIDGE:  ... to give you the benefit of your best judgment.  And on those occasions where I disagreed with my party, I exercised my best judgment.  So I'm...

MATTHEWS: Why do you think your party...

RIDGE:  ... a proud Republican.

MATTHEWS: Why has your party begun to resemble the last of the Mohicans in the Northeast United States? You've lost all the members of the United States Congress in the House in New England.  You've got left two or three — well, you've only got Judd Gregg, and he's quitting. 
You've got the two senators from Maine, and that's it in the Northeast.

And by the way, the Northeast defined is all the way down to the North Carolina border.  That's the Northeast, and all the way to the Iowa border. So what happened?  Was it the Iraq war?  Was it Cheney's war over there?  What did it to you?

RIDGE: Well, I think both — I mean, I look at Pennsylvania as a frame of reference, and clearly — nationally — you know, there's certainly fundamentals that always guided us as Republicans, limited government, fiscally ethical government, competent government, outcome-based, and understand that government has no money of its own, so when you make an investment, make sure you get the outcomes that you need.

Our message became shrill.  We became very divided over these social issues.  And at some point in time, we're going to have to be a lot less judgmental...


RIDGE:  ... and a lot more tolerant because we will always be the pro-life party. There's no question about that.  But we have to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you're pro-choice.

RIDGE: That's right. But it's the notion of, let's accept certain differences of opinion to understand that these are principled people who disagree with you, and let's treat them with greater civility and respect than, frankly, we have in the past.

MATTHEWS: Did you have any conversation with Arlen Specter the last couple days?

RIDGE: Did not.

MATTHEWS: Did you have any conversation with the governor of Pennsylvania, the current governor?

RIDGE: No, I did not.

MATTHEWS: Did you talk to any top Republicans about this?  And what was your assurances — what was their case that you could win?

RIDGE: Well, I mean, that several people ran polls, and some people even announced they were going to run some polls.  And I said, Don't bother, save your money.  I mean, if I had taken a poll, I'd have never run for governor and probably wouldn't have run for Congress.

MATTHEWS: But I have seen polls with you ahead.

RIDGE: That's right. But (INAUDIBLE) polls (INAUDIBLE) behind. And polls are a snapshot. You and I have had this discussion before.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but Bob Asher (ph) ran a poll up in Pennsylvania, Opinion Dynamics or whatever it's called, and you came out ahead.

RIDGE: Yes. And — but it would have been a tough campaign, tough primary, tough general election.  It's a contact — it's a competitive sport.  It's a contact sport.  I mean, the biggest challenge for me in making this decision — it was the toughest decision I ever had to make
— was the fact that I had literally people — and I haven't been in the political arena in a contest for 10 years — who wanted to put on their helmet and go in...


RIDGE:  ... and compete (ph) with me. And it's very humbling and gratifying at the same time.  But at this point in time, I decided it's just not what I want to do.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of people that switch parties?  I'm going through the list.  I wrote about this years ago.  First of all, it never turns out well for most of them.

RIDGE: I don't think any of them.

MATTHEWS: John Lindsey (ph) was one of the most attractive candidates who (INAUDIBLE) became a Democrat, nobody cared about him. John Connally, a very attractive Democrat, became a Republican, went the other way, disappeared, got one delegate vote.  People don't like turncoats generally, do they.

RIDGE:  I don't think...

MATTHEWS: "Turncoat" to strong a word for Arlen Specter?

RIDGE:Well, no, I'm not going to use...

MATTHEWS: Is it too...

RIDGE:  ... that because I respect Arlen's 30 years of service and...

MATTHEWS: Was it turncoat behavior?

RIDGE: Well, I think it was — he made a decision that I think he may now regret, given what the Democrats did to him. But I don't second guess — I mean, that's — I'm not going to second guess or...

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of people that change parties?

RIDGE: I would — here's what I would prefer...instead of answering that question.  I would prefer that you stand your ground and fight, fight for what you believe in, in the context of the party that has supported you for 20 to 30 years.  People go to the Alamo not because they won, they go because people stood there and fought for something they believed in.


RIDGE: And I would have preferred to see Arlen stand and fight...


RIDGE:  ... and not hold — and hold his ground.

MATTHEWS:  I didn't see Davey Crockett putting on a Mexican uniform, did you?

RIDGE:  No, I didn't.  You know, these are tough issues for us.


RIDGE:  And I do hope that my party, at some point in time, is less judgmental...

MATTHEWS: Can Toomey beat a Democrat?

RIDGE: Depends who the Democrat is.

MATTHEWS:  Could he beat Specter, the switcher?

RIDGE:  I don't know.  I don't know.  Depends on the nature of his campaign.  But I think he's going to have...

MATTHEWS: Who you voting for?

RIDGE: Well, I'm going to wait and see who's in the primary.

MATTHEWS:  No, if you had to vote between Toomey, the conservative Republican, or Specter, the ex-Republican, who would you vote for?

RIDGE:  It's a wonderful country, this America.  It's called a secret ballot.

MATTHEWS: Come on! Aye or nay?

RIDGE: You got my answer, Chris!  That's hardball.

MATTHEWS:  Tom Ridge...

RIDGE:  It would have been really hardball if it'd been Matthews versus Ridge.  That would have been a pay-per-view...

MATTHEWS:  That would have been two nice guys. That's not the Pennsylvania way these days!  Anyway, thank you, Tom Ridge.

RIDGE:  Thanks, Chris

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