This Republican Moment, Visualized as Punnett Squares

Late Update: As of 3:40 this afternoon, the AHCA bill got pulled from the floor and there will be no vote today, if ever. So we can say for sure that environmental pressures elicited a complete reversal of fortune for at least one recessive gene, the Robber gene.

Additionally, Nunes cancelled a public hearing on Russian interference in our elections, so at least one Republican is heavily expressing the T. Stay tuned!

Rare in American politics is a moment as elemental as this. Rarely do the political winds so agonizingly divide a party along such simple lines. But that is the moment we find ourselves in.

It was only just Monday, March 20th when we last through our democracy a sacred and untouchable thing. A thing that, while we may quibble about this and that, many have always seen as an unimpeachable institution of fairness and transparency. Now we know with certainty that our election was hacked and our winning candidate materially helped by that hacking.

Moreover, we have evidence that said candidate – the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump – was aided from within by campaign members willing to court Russian interference. If Trump was a willing actor in all of this, he may be courting treason. If he was not, he’s proven himself to be wholly unqualified for the job he finds himself in and utterly stripped of any political capital normally conferred to the highest office in the land.

Republicans need that political capital. For seven years, Republicans have promised their base that they would eliminate Obamacare. The solution presented by Republican leadership is a killing field of cuts, caps and victims. Passing such a bill would be all but impossible without the President’s leadership and the good will that normally accompanies a newly-minted president. The window of opportunity for such a big bill shrinks quickly after Election Day. The more so under the circumstances.

Thus Republicans find themselves faced with two career-deciding questions, inextricably linked. The first is whether or not to support President Trump. Doing so means sheltering under his protection. But in the current context, that shelter doesn’t look very reliable.

The second is whether or not to support a putative “American Health Care Act.” Supporting the AHCA certainly means making a principled stand for the ideal of limited government. Rejecting the AHCA is just as certainly an invitation to an Alt-Right primary challenger. But hanging in the balance are huge core constituencies, potentially left high and dry and spoiling for justice.

Yesterday, I conceived of the problem as a kind of Punnett Square choice. if you don’t remember Punnett Squares, let me refresh your memory.

Reginald Punnett was an early 20th century scientist who described a visual system for determining the relative successes of dominant and recessive genes in sexually reproduced offspring. It is a matrix that puts the dominant and recessive genes for each trait in a separate row or column in a two-dimensional grid. It shows that dominant traits, when expressed together, have the greatest likelihood of being both expressed and passed on to the next generation.

A Punnett Square illustrating the choices facing Republicans. T stands for Traitor (Trump), while R stands for Robber (AHCA).

In my Punnett Square experiment, I took the two primary issues before Republicans as two separate traits. T stands for Trump or Treason if you like. Did my bias just show there? Why would anyone bother to continue reading past such an admission? Shouldn’t I find a more neutral way of speaking about such an important issue? Yes, reasons, and go fuck yourself.

The second trait is R, standing for robbing old people for the benefit of rich people. Again: go fuck yourself.

In deciding what was the dominant and what was the recessive expression of each trait, it boiled down to what I thought the preferred Republican position on each issue would be. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that party members generally prefer to keep lined up behind the leader of the party, in this case, Trump. Thus supporting Trump (capital “T”) is the dominant trait. Not supporting the leader, lowercase “t”, is the recessive trait.

On the other hand, Republicans have spent the better part of seven years railing against Obamacare. Voting against any attempt to roll Obamacare back seems like political heresy. Here, the natural, dominant (“R”) course of action is to vote in favour of the AHCA.

It is important to note that the safest possible option seems likely to be opposing both the president and the AHCA. But doing so would mean expressing the two recessive genes in the Republican DNA and not likely to happen.

What we see when we put it together in this way is actually quite interesting. We predict that the most likely outcome for today (if anything happens at all) is that Republicans will end up lining up behind the president and voting for the AHCA. The odds that the dominant traits will be expressed are high. In fact, it’s also possible for a Republican to skirt the line, choosing to support the AHCA but not Trump or vice versa. Because in politics as in life, recessive traits do express themselves from time to time.

What does science tell us about the likelihood of recessive genes expressing themselves? Well, while basic probability would have it that only 25% of all “offspring” would express the recessive traits for both genes, evolution tells us that things can go very differently. Environmental pressures can act on a species, cutting small groups off from the species.

Small groups of isolated genes means necessarily smaller gene pools and the increasing probability of recessive genes gaining the upper hand. In extreme cases, enough recessive genes get introduced into the new gene pool to cause what science calls “speciation,” or the creating of an entirely new species. We see this not only in the fossil record, but happening in real time as global warming forces species into ever-more-isolated pockets.

There is no shortage of environmental pressure on Republicans in this moment. Everything about Russian hacking, health care, the SCOTUS and our economy seems to be coming down to this moment. And as we enter the second day of “now or never” AHCA horsetrading, it certainly seems to be having an effect.

Politicians are indeed facing increasing isolation, avoiding town hall meetings and retreating into their narrow caucuses even within the party. It’s clear that not every pol is going to get what they want out of this new president, in fact, many pols will have to live with significantly less than they had before.

Will the result be a new evolution of Republican politics? Will the Republicans finally embrace evolution at least enough to save their own asses?


The Flaming Id: a theory of Republican primary lunacy.

Last presidential election season, it was easy to spot. A seemingly endless stream of candidates ascended to the top slot on a weekly basis. From Herman “Nein-nein-nein” Cain to a desperate attempt to get the now-deceased Fred Thompson into the race, the clown car never seemed bereft of options.

This season, it’s been harder to spot because one name has managed to dominate the sideshow so long. Many of us braced for an entire general election season of The Donald. Trump did to lock up the crazy vote; a vote which to the dismay of many – not least the crazy people – wasn’t nearly enough to carry the day in Iowa.

Donald Trump got taken down by predictable means: Religious Right members who’ve raised enough children not to be gulled by his idiocy. Cruz will likely be hobbled by New Hampshire Republicans to whom his gross brand of ur-Conservativism is an anathema.

But there is a common thread between these two primary seasons and many before them. It’s what I think if as The Flaming Id.

The Flaming Id

Deep within the breast of every die-hard Conservative, there is a spoiled child that’s as certain they’re being cheated by someone less Conservative, as they are that the sun will come up tomorrow. They’re not sure if it’s The Blacks®, The Gays®, some sort of terrorist/Muslim/Kenyan cabal… but they’re damned sure it’s someone. Someone, of course, wrapped up in the iron-clad Politically Correct® armor Liberals built for them.

And they’re just as certain that if they breathed a word of any of this at work, they’d be fired. If they breathed a word of it in public, they’d be shunned. But that doesn’t mean they can’t cheer on a candidate to the presidency who says it!

Fundamentally, Democrats and Republicans think of and experience primaries completely differently. For Democrats, the challenge is always to get through the primaries with the sharpest elbows and the sweetest tongues. You don’t need to go about winning primaries by pissing off core constituencies. Primaries are awful things to the weak coalitions built of such disparate interests.

But primaries are like a $300 car to Republicans. They don’t mean shit except as an excuse to go joy riding through the mud. Cheerlead anyone you like: you know they won’t win. There’s no need to assume any responsibility for the way the primaries turn out, because one way or another, you know who will win. The man that will win will always be the stock Republican.

He’ll be the company man. The former governor. The business exec. And no, he won’t be whore-mongering, loud-mouthed Donald Trump. He’ll be someone that Establishment Republicanism can bank on for incremental change on taxes and due platitudes to religiosity.

Rubio is probably not the best stock candidate you’ve ever seen. He’s not very experienced. He’s pitifully inept on immigration. In general, he really doesn’t look that tough. But just because he’s not the best, that doesn’t mean he might not do the job. Time will tell. But the primaries? The primaries have nothing to do with it.