What’s the matter with Iowa?

Yesterday, I wrote: “The bad-faith liberals are the ones saying nice things about Mike Huckabee.” As if on cue, E.J. Dionne says some nice things about Mike Huckabee.
He does so by way of flogging his pet idea that class warfare (he calls it populism) is making a comeback, as shown by the popularity of Huckabee and John Edwards in Iowa. But Dionne cites no evidence that us-against-them rhetoric ever subsided on the Democratic side (Edwards rode it from obscurity to a strong showing in Iowa last time). And Iowa is a thin reed upon which to base a claim that economic populism has gained significant traction among Republicans.
As I’ve observed before, Iowa typically supplies the most socially conservative Republican entant[s] with approximately 25 percent of the vote. So if Huckabee wins 30 percent of the caucus vote, he will have increased that share by 5 percentage votes. And part of the increase would likely be due to the fact that he’s a better campaigner, and has held higher office, than Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and the Gary Bauer-Alan Keyes combo.
In reality, to the extent that Iowa is capable of signifying anything, what’s happening there on the Republican side does more to refute another pet Dionne theme — that religion is waning as the political “preserve” of social conservatives — than it does to support the “return of egalitarianism” notion. It is Huckabee’s pro-life record and his position as a “Christian candidate” that have fueled his run. That he now plays the class warrior too is mostly an attempt to differentiate himself from the other front-runner in the state, Mitt Romney, who is also running as a social conservative and who emphasizes that he’s a man of faith. Meanwhile, if anyone on the Democratic side is paying serious attention to the specifically religious concerns of religious voters, I’ve missed it.
In sum, the Iowa caucuses are a hugely imperfect barometer that reads about the same way this year as in the past.
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