It’s been eight years since they were the rabble rousers and the thorn in the side of the Democratic establishment.
Today, the diehard Hillary Clinton supporters behind the Party Unity My Ass movement have less to rage against, as their candidate is the establishment pick. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel a certain kinship with an emerging group of Bernie Sanders fans who say the Vermont senator is their one and only choice.
“It’s not about the players, it’s about the process—a process we warned was ‘rigged’ during the epic Hillary vs. Obama battle,” said Diane Mantouvalos, who led the Just Say No Deal coalition, which included the PUMA movement.
“As for unity... in the purity of the word, I don’t believe the establishment is genuinely concerned. There is an infinite amount of money to buy the math you need,” she said. “In this respect, I feel a sense of solidarity with Sanders supporters, and yes, even Trump supporters who’ve been disparaged—as we were in ’08.”
The PUMA movement took shape as the Democratic establishment (and, PUMAs argue, the media) began to close ranks around then-Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign. They saw sexism and bias behind the effort, and some even vowed to vote for Republican Sen. John McCain if Clinton wasn’t the eventual nominee. As John Avlon notes in Wingnuts, one of the PUMAs, Linda Starr, was responsible for creating the birther movement. Starr could not be reached for comment.
It's been nearly eight years since PUMAs collectively raged when on June 7, 2008, Clinton conceded to Obama and called for party unity. They felt like she was forced out by an establishment and media that had spent months fawning over the newer, younger, vastly less experienced candidate who couldn’t hold a candle to the woman they thought should be the next president of the United States.
“In March, probably early March, mid-March, there were calls from people within the party and all over the media for Hillary to drop out,” said one former PUMA who requested anonymity to speak freely on the topic. “Even at that point, she could not overtake him in delegates, and we are way further and past that here at this point in time.”
The former PUMA said there are parallels between the most loyal Clinton and Sanders supporters.
“I certainly felt an unfairness back in 2008 with the party, I felt like they were backing a particular horse, so I can sort of relate to that a little bit. I do see some differences, though, in parallels with them saying it’s a rigged election,” the former PUMA said.
And unlike Sanders, this person noted, Clinton never egged on her most definant supporters.
“We were kinda on our own,” the source said.
It remains to be seen whether Sanders will call for his flock to back Clinton if, as the math overwhelmingly indicates, he loses the nomination fight.
Sanders was certainly not ready on Sunday, when he repeatedly dodged that question during an interview on Meet the Press.
“Well, the responsibility that I accept in a very, very serious way is to do everything that I can to make sure that Donald Trump will not become elected president of the United States,” Sanders said when asked if he felt a responsibility to call for party unity. “Donald Trump, for a dozen different reasons, would be a disaster as president. I will do everything that I can to make sure that does not happen.”
Whether Sanders changes his tune will determine how stubborn a potential PUMA-like movement for him would be, according to Kyle Raccio, a former PUMA turned Tea Partier who is now supporting Trump.
“I think it all depends on what his advice to his supporters is,” he said. “There’s likely to be enormous pressure for him from Democrats to endorse immediately at that point.”
However, Raccio and several others interviewed by The Daily Beast noted that Sanders’s supporters have less ground to stand on given how far behind he is in the popular vote.
“In 2008, Hillary was leading Obama in the popular vote, and there were a lot of voters... who felt disenfranchised,” Raccio said. “She had a stronger case for going forward than Bernie Sanders does. In contrast, Bernie is further behind in pledged delegates than Hillary was eight years ago and is currently behind in the national popular vote by over 3 million votes.”
That’s exactly why Alessandro Machi, who runs dailypuma.com, rejected the comparison between Sanders’s and Clinton’s most devout followers.
“In 2008, Hillary Clinton was below 100 pledged delegates behind. And the most she ever was was like 90 behind, and she closed it to 59 by the end of the election,” he said.
Still, Machi didn’t think their loyalty was misplaced.
“I think there’s definitely, there’s always been an emotional connection in a campaign,” he said.