This primary season evangelicals have shown that they're less likely than four years ago to vote for a Mormon candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Why? It could be that this increasingly robust Mormon Gap has to do with Mormonism itself; e.g. that evangelicals are just as loathe to put a Mormon in the White House and have become more aware that one or another candidate is Mormon. Or it could have to do with something else.
Over at NCR, Michael Sean Winters shrewdly points to something else: the Tea Party. Evangelicals, "whatever their thoughts about Mormonism, are the core of the Tea Party and Newt's anti-establishment mantras are Tea Party catnip and Romney's cool, coifed, considerate demeanor is not," writes Winters, the author of an excellent new biography of the godfather of evangelical ressentiment, Jerry Falwell (about which I'll have more to say in due course). This is plausible...but is it true?
In both Iowa and New Hampshire, evangelicals were actually 25 percent less likely to vote for Romney than Tea Partiers were (less than 10 percent of either group voted for Huntsman). Which suggests that, if anything, it's evangelicals who have influenced the Tea Party position on Mormon candidates rather than the other way around. On the other hand, in South Carolina, evangelicals were little more likely to vote for Romney than Tea Partiers, and the same goes for the latest Q-poll in Florida.
And this just in: Rasmussen's got Tea Partiers favoring Gingrich over Romney by 15 points while evangelicals are equally divided between the two. Maybe Floridian evangelicals are different from those in Iowa, NH, and SC after all.