A Loss Of Faith

Former White House Insider Tells Lesley Stahl Staffers Called Evangelicals "Nuts" And "Goofy"

Kuo himself often confused the two. He was a pioneer of the compassionate conservative movement, but began to go off the tracks when he, like other evangelical speechwriters, wrote for some of the stars of the Republican party, with hidden snippets of hymns and biblical phrases.

"A way to talk about faith without having people in the mainstream media identify it as faith," he explains.

As in this speech, delivered by President Bush, which Kuo didn't write: "There's power, wonder-working power in the good and idealism and faith of the American people."

If "wonder working power" sailed over your head, most evangelicals recognize it from a famous hymn.

"God and politics had become very much fused together into a sort of a single entity. Where, in a way, politics was the fourth part of the trinity. God the father, God the son, God the holy spirit, God the politician," says Kuo.

"You're blowing the whistle on you. You're the one who did this," Stahl remarks.

"I say this as someone who has lived it, not as someone who preaches it, as though I'm holier than thou. I am the least holy among thou," he replies.

Kuo actually left politics for a while. But then he was summoned to Austin, Texas to meet then-Governor Bush.

Kuo thought they'd talk for 15 or 20 minutes; instead he says they talked for hours and he admits he was "dazzled" by Bush's compassion.

But once in the White House, he says President Bush and his team let the compassion agenda "languish."

"Well, they say they tried. They say they wanted these programs. And this is the give and take of political life. And that you're being unfair," Stahl says.

"It all comes down to the fact that if the president wanted it, he would have gotten it," Kuo replies.

The White House calls Kuo's book "ridiculous," and Kuo's old boss, Jim Towey, who ran the faith based office until this past June says Kuo is "naïve and simplistic."

"I think it's dangerous to take a snapshot of a few months or even a year and draw conclusions," Towey says. "Ya know, I can look you in the eye and say the president did what he could do."

Kuo says Towey and the White House were embarrassed when the Washington Post ran an article in September 2002 saying they were using the faith office to woo voters, even though the president had repeatedly pledged it was not political.

The White House shot down the Washington Post story, but now Kuo reveals it was all true, and what's more – he's the one who thought up the idea.

"This is your idea to tie this office, that was supposed to be non-partisan, you come up with this idea to tie it to the campaign?" Stahl asks.

"Uh-huh," Kuo affirms. "I want this initiative to work."

"And you think if you can get it tied – hooked in with the political people, that they'll then come back and support you, is that the thinking?" Stahl asks.

"This is not rocket science or brain surgery, this is a matter of survival," says Kuo.

He says he went to the White House political affairs office, then run by Ken Mehlman, and offered to hold events at taxpayer expense for Republicans in tight races as a way of energizing religious voters.

Kuo says Mehlman was "thrilled."

"He just whipped off a bunch a names of particular races and said, 'We need to go there, there, there, there and there,'" Kuo says.

Events in 20 key races, Kuo says, were eventually held. Jim Towey disputes that, though he does confirm the meeting with Ken Mehlman. "But never, never was I going to go out there and politicize this initiative," Towey tells Stahl.

Asked if Mehlman crossed the line in even discussing it, Towey says "No."

"Did you cross over the line in discussing it with Ken Mehlman?" Stahl asks.

"When I came to the White House, I came with my eyes wide open. I knew there were going to be political pressures from Republicans, from Democrats. And the reality is President Bush gave me very clear marching orders not to politicize the initiative," Towey says.

Towey says he was evenhanded in running the events, organizing some at the request of Democrats. But Kuo stands by his version.