Due to the heavy emphasis on the character of the men and women running for president, the race for the Oval Office tends to play out with all the drama of a made-for-TV movie. Like every good drama, there is a host of supporting characters to accompany the major protagonists, most of whom add a little flavor to the occasionally bland news cycle interstitium. This post is the first in a series that will follow up on some of the major newsmakers in this year’s election: where they’ve been, what they’re doing, and where they’re headed. Today, we start out with the little cause that could, but didn’t: PUMA.
PUMA was and continues to be a group of, shall we say, enthusiastic Hillary supporters who appeared in the wake of the fateful DNC decision that handed the Democratic primary season victory to Barack Obama. Complaining that the DNC "pushed the weaker of two candidates over the edge and will have to deal with the consequences," they stridently refused "to support a nominee who was selected by the leadership rather than elected by the voters." Harriet Christian became the media’s poster child for the rage that belied a group whose name was an acronym for "People United Means Action" or "Party Unity My ***" depending upon who you asked. In case you don’t remember Ms. Christian, here’s the television rant that made her famous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KACQuZVAE3s
After the nomination went to Obama, PUMAs pledged not only that they would never vote for Obama under any circumstances, but also that they would singlehandedly deliver the election to the McCain camp as harsh rebuke to the tyranny of the DNC.
So, how did that turn out?
Evidently, not so well. Besides the obvious fact that he managed to win the presidency, Senator Obama won both of the states that had been contested at the 31 May DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, and all of the "Rust Belt" swing states that were meant to be Hillary country.
Even so, one popular PUMA website, PUMA08.com, proclaimed "As promised, PUMAs delivered yesterday"
"If PUMAs are conservatively numbered at 3.6 million, or 20% of Hillary’s 18million votes, their vote would have given Barack Obama an increase of 13.25% over 2004, if it is closer to 40%, which we believe it to be, those extra 7.2 million voters would have given Obama growth of 19.35% over 2004, and have put him in the range of 65 to 70 million votes. 7.15% growth and 63 million popular votes clearly shows that this did not happen.
On his part, if John McCain had simply maintained the same number of voters as Bush did in 2004, he would have ended up with 6,140,076 more votes than he did, and while he would still have lost the election, it would have been by a much narrower margin. This is without the PUMA factor.
However, if the same number of voters supported McCain in 2008 as did Bush in 2004, and McCain got 3.6 million PUMA votes added to his numbers, he would have won the White House by about 3 million votes."
Since then, the website has taken on a slightly more conciliatory tone, saying "While many of us shall never respect the process which brought Barack Obama to office, we must respect the office which he now holds, and realize the ONLY thing that matters is what he does as President." This does not seem to be the opinion of the whole movement, however. Another PUMA website, PumaPAC.org says, "If Barack Obama had been a good and honorable man, if he had fairly won his election, I would have been dancing in the streets along with my black fellow and sister Americans. But he is not and he did not. And so I cannot." The site even includes a timer counting down to Inauguration Day 2012, gleefully ticking off the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the departure of the "One Term Wonder."
In case you’re wondering, as of 13 November 2008, there are 1162 days left.
One cannot escape the irony that had this group not been so vocal, McCain probably wouldn’t have made the most costly bet of his entire campaign by picking Palin the poll-killer. Theoretically, he selected Palin because she was a fresh face that would appeal to the social conservative base. In reality, the field of fresh-faced social conservatives is a broad one, and the selection of the governor was a clear effort to scoop some of the PUMA crowd.
With the election over, the PUMA movement seems disjointed, although it’s unlikely that they will completely vanish in the immediate future. According to the folks at PumaPAC, "Puma PAC goes on… We are working to reform the ENTIRE political landscape, including both of the major parties and all of our public institutions, especially the media." Notably, most PUMA websites have a great deal of affection for Sarah Palin (in particular what they view to be her maltreatment by the media), and who knows, maybe PUMAs and Palinites will pair up for 2012. But until then, PUMAs inherit their quiet corner of the blogosphere as a political incubator, and in this writer’s opinion, begin a long quiet drift out of existence and into obscurity.