According to veteran ABC journalist Sam Donaldson, evangelical voters are longing for a "Christian theocracy" to rule the United States. Donaldson, appearing on the December 9 edition of "This Week," made the comment while discussing GOP candidate Mitt Romney's speech about religious faith. He also labeled the address "very, very frightening."
Responding to host George Stephanopoulos's assertion that the speech was an inversion of John Kennedy's famous 1960 address, Donaldson asserted, "That's right and that's far we've come. [Romney] talks about the public square. Now, he would say, 'I'm don't mean a Christian theocracy in the White House.' But it's getting much, much closer." Returning to the subject several minutes later, the former ABC anchor, in a slightly horrified tone, remarked, "...Talk about a Christian theocracy in this country, many evangelical Christians believe... that's what we should have, that government should favor people who have the right and understand what God wants us to do."
Donaldson also generalized about the growing threat of religion in public affairs. Without attribution or examples, he claimed, "On the floor of the Senate or the House, you hear God evoked for a tax cut or making it permanent." It was at this point that he offered his direct denouncement of the address: "But Mitt Romney's speech, I think, was very, very frightening to people, who think the encroachment into government, into the White House, or into the Congress, on religious matters, making decisions on public policy-- It's wrong."
It should be noted, however, that there was a conservative on the panel. However, columnist George Will, appearing along with ABC journalist Cokie Roberts, agreed with Donaldson's assessment that religion is taking too strong a role in modern politics.
A transcript of the key exchanges, which began at 10:36am on December 9, follow:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn to Republicans. Mitt Romney did give his big speech on faith in America this week. He said very clearly that he would not be taking any, he would not be influenced by the leaders in his church. But then he made a turn in his speech and listen to this:
MITT ROMNEY: The notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely as a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they're intent on establishing a new religion. The religion of secularism. They're wrong.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sam, we've all been talking about the echoes of John F. Kennedy. That was actually a repudiation of John F. Kennedy who, in 1960, said that the separation of church and state is absolute and that religion is a private matter.
SAM DONALDSON: That's right and that's far we've come. He talks about the public square. Now, he would say, "I'm don't mean a Christian theocracy in the White House." But it's getting much, much closer. When I first came to this town, chaplains began the sessions of the Senate and the House with a prayer.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Still do.
DONALDSON: People talked about the pledge of allegiance. Still do. And that was just fine. But now, religion has crept into public policy. On the floor of the Senate or the House, you hear God evoked for a tax cut or making it permanent. [All laugh] I think God is too busy to worry about those things. But Mitt Romney's speech, I think, was very, very frightening to people, who think the encroachment into government, into the White House, or into the Congress, on religious matters, making decisions on public policy-- It's wrong.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Look at the impact he's having right now. The cover of "Newsweek" this morning calling him "Holy Huckabee, the unlikely rise of a preacher politician." That is the cover for their new poll showing him 22 points ahead of Mitt Romney in Iowa. 39 for Huckabee. 17 for Romney. Fred Thompson, all the rest, down into, into single digits. And, George, I've talked to the Romney campaign. Now, they don't believe it's a 22 point lead for Mike Huckabee. They do believe that Huckabee's ahead right now and he's on his way, unless he can be brought down and there's plenty to bring him down with, to win this caucus on January 3rd.
GEORGE WILL: Well, 40-some percent of the Republican caucus goers are born-gain evangelical Christians.
DONALDSON: In Iowa.
WILL: They are going to vote for a man, evidently, who in 1998, in Iowa, in 1998 said, Mr. Huckabee said, he went into politics to take back this nation for Christ. Well, that is not a really sound general election position.
DONALDSON: He's running as the Christian leader. He says so in his ads. And that's just a step from saying, "I'm running as the Christian president." Well, fine if he's going to be a personal Christian. Jimmy Carter was, others have been. But it's clear that, talk about a Christian theocracy in this country, many evangelical Christians believe, although they might abandon those exact words, that's what we should have, that government should favor people who have the right and understand what God wants us to do. And that, of course, runs against not just Thomas Jefferson, but all of the history of our Founding Father's attempts to write a Constitution which prescribes that.