The analysis you've probably read this morning or heard last night was that Mike Huckabee won the Republican caucuses in Iowa because of evangelicals. The WashingtonPost.com headline right now: "Evangelicals Fuel Huckabee in Caucuses." You probably also heard a lot of references to Pat Robertson's second-place Iowa win in 1988.
"Evangelical Republicans in Iowa chose one of their own in Mike Huckabee," writes Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press. "He made his religious beliefs and his rock-solid opposition to abortion, gay marriage and gun control central parts of his campaign - and it paid off."
The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib agrees. "So much for the idea that evangelical Christians are a dispirited and declining force in the Republican party," he writes. "Last night they showed up in force – in stunning force, actually. ... In a very real sense, evangelical voters, as much as Mr. Huckabee, won Iowa's caucuses on the Republican side."
Andrew Sullivan is fairly predictable, with the headline, "The Christianists Triumph."
ABC News explains the headlines: "Evangelical Christians accounted for a remarkable six in 10 GOP caucus-goers, and they favored Huckabee, a Baptist minister, over Mitt Romney, who's Mormon, by a broad 46-19 percent. Among the remaining, non-evangelical Republican voters, by contrast, only about one in seven supported Huckabee, and Romney won easily, with 33 percent."
But 46 percent of the evangelical Republican vote means that most evangelicals did not vote for Huckabee, notes Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Huckabee fan Rod Dreher of The Dallas Morning News notes on his Beliefnet blog that Huckabee "won just about every Republican demographic – especially, please note, the middle-income voters and below. He was especially strong among younger voters. The only caucusgoers Romney dominated were the well-off ($100K+) secular urban moderates. If you think Huckabee's only a phenomenon of the religious right, explain those numbers, willya?"
In a separate post, Dreher continues:
Believe me, you don't get the [Dallas Morning News]'s endorsement by being a candidate who can only speak to religious and social conservatives. ... [I]f anything Huckabee's religious conservatism was a liability with our board. What carried the day for him with a majority of the board was his pragmatism, the fact that his religious beliefs (as evidenced by his record as governor) led him to use government to help those who are struggling to make it ... and the fact that he is pitching himself as a different kind of Republican, one who wants to distance himself from the wearisome partisan trench warfare of the past 15 or so years.
Don't discount the evangelical factor, says New York Times columnist David Brooks. Just understand that the evangelical factor isn't what some people think it is: "Some people are going to tell you that Mike Huckabee's victory last night in Iowa represents a triumph for the creationist crusaders. Wrong. ... [E]vangelicals have changed. Huckabee is the first ironic evangelical on the national stage. He's funny, campy (see his Chuck Norris fixation) and he's not at war with modern culture."
It's wrong to assume that Huckabee's Iowa win was about "abortion, gay marriage, and gun control" and not about the economy, Brooks says. "Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has. In that sense, Huckabee's victory is not a step into the past. It opens up the way for a new coalition. ... Huckabee probably won't be the nominee, but starting last night in Iowa, an evangelical began the Republican Reformation."
So did Huckabee win because he's part of the Religious Right, or because he's not part of the Religious Right? I get the sense that Dreher and Brooks are downplaying the ways in which Huckabee resonates with the Religious Right even as other pundits wrongly equate that movement with evangelicalism.
But there's little doubt that Huckabee's opponents will try to paint his appeal as limited to the Religious Right. Why? They believe, as ABC's Gary Langer claims, that the Iowa numbers raise "the question of how well Huckabee's appeal can travel. There are far fewer evangelicals in some other states, notably New Hampshire; and their share in the Iowa caucuses, a low-turnout event in which a highly motivated group can have a large impact, may be hard to replicate elsewhere."
Could be. But those who think Huckabee's win last night is a rerun of Pat Robertson's surprising second-place showing in 1988 don't know what they're talking about. Not only are the two men very different politically, but, as The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti notes, "second place isn't a nine-point victory."