Democrats bending under 2016’s reborn PUMA wave

The only thing missing from this month’s meeting of the Linn County Democratic Central Committee were PUMA buttons.

Although the acronym was officially registered as “People United Means Action,” most remember it as the more colloquial and inflammatory “Party Unity My Ass.”

PUMAs were 2008 Democrats who adamantly supported Hillary Clinton, and protested Barack Obama because he “was selected by party leadership and not the people.”

Some place, however, there must be a few PUMAs tipping back a pint and laughing — or alternately chewing Alka-Seltzer tablets like candy. Their spirit lives on.

PUMAs saw the nomination process as “unfair and biased” and “flawed beyond belief.”

Party leaders and the media, they said, were intent on making “the convention into a coronation.” So PUMAs demanded Clinton’s name be placed into nomination. But even after their wish was granted, and the vote failed, some were not satisfied.

A supporter wears a sunglasses adorned with logos of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a campaign event on May 26, 2016.
A supporter wears a sunglasses adorned with logos of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a campaign event on May 26, 2016. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

They scoffed and cried coersion when Clinton endorsed Obama and called for unity. Some walked away, refusing to cast a vote for president in the general election. Others actively worked against the Democratic nominee, either through write-in campaigns or direct support of John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate.

Call it a Democratic Party documentary currently experiencing a twisted revival in local theaters.

The twist is that the “upstarts,” or party newcomers, are concentrated on the losing end of the 2016 contest, but often hold vocal local majorities. In each instance, they exist without the benefit of historical perspective and context or the loyalty that comes from long-standing investment.

Of the strategies employed by the PUMAs that caused concern and strife, none was more reviled than assertions the party was corrupt beyond repair. Especially troublesome were those who hinted a “scorched earth” policy might allow a beautiful phoenix to rise from ashes. But even as “burn it down” was whispered, few had a strong enough stomach to dismantle a system they’d help build.

Things are different in 2016, and the whispers are growing louder.

This week money that normally would have flowed to local Democratic candidates was instead diverted to the travel expenses of four Linn County delegates to the national convention. The decision was unprecedented, and not limited to Linn County.

Party members in Black Hawk and Dubuque counties have likewise helped offset costs for their national delegates.

While not all of those receiving party funds hold a PUMA mind-set, it’s clear that some do. They are either unable or unwilling to consider the possibility of an outcome other than their candidate being the presidential nominee.

“I can’t think about that,” a Bernie Sanders delegate told me. “This isn’t over.”

Further prodding of the subject was ended by a frustrated sigh and promise to fight against the party “if injustices aren’t corrected so that Sanders can claim his rightful presidential nomination.”

“We can’t let the bastards win. We just can’t,” the delegate said before walking away.

Later, a Clinton delegate told me “bastards stole the nomination before” and being at the convention was insurance “that crap doesn’t happen again.”

Maybe when I’m in Philadelphia I’ll figure out which set of bastards filled the local party’s coffers and wrote the delegates’ donation checks.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on June 25, 2016. Photo credit: Stephen Lam/Reuters