Four years after their candidate withdrew from the Democratic Presidential primary, years into her service as Secretary of State to President Barack Obama, a hard core of Hillary Clinton dead-enders continue to fight an obscure twilight struggle for their chosen candidate.
The fierce Clinton supporters known as PUMAs — “Party Unity My Ass” — were last seen by the mainstream media chanting “Denver, Denver” outside Clinton events in the late Spring of 2008, urging her in vain to fight to the convention. But while they have dropped off the public radar, they haven’t gone away, or even dimmed their passions. Instead, their small but intense, and largely online, community has become basically unmoored both from their heroine and from the Democratic Party, drifting steadily to the right.
“As a left-leaning individual at the time, it was the first time I had been able to see the media turn viciously against my candidate,” said Kyle Raccio, who in 2008 was a student volunteer for Clinton’s campaign in California. “As someone who had supported Democrats in the past, I had never seen that before.”
Inspired by Clinton’s “pragmatic centrism” but repelled by the “cult of personality they embraced under Obama,” Raccio couldn’t quite accept the Illinois senator’s nomination.
“I just felt like something was not right,” Raccio says. “I didn’t feel hopeful for the country because we had just elected a community organizer.” Raccio started looking elsewhere — Fox News, conservative blogs — for news, and started to be active on Twitter. Raccio attended his first Tea Party rally in 2009 and met some “really nice people.”
Raccio is one of many PUMAs who not only couldn’t support Obama, but can no longer support Democrats. But he and his allies have not become garden variety Republicans. Instead the PUMA movement, though diminished, improbably lives on online. Some of the biggest players — sites like Hillaryis44 and Darragh Murphy’s PUMA Pac site — are still active, though PUMA Pac hasn’t been a real political action committee supporting a candidate since May of 2011, when the FEC determined that it hadn’t met reporting requirements. Some PUMAs say they’ll vote for third party candidates, some are writing in Clinton’s name this year, and some have made a full switch to the other side of the aisle — but regardless of current affiliation, the surprising fact is that the Democratic battles of four years ago are still being fought on an endless loop on the Internet.
In 2008, the PUMAs garnered more than their fair share of attention from the media. Murphy, the Georgetown professor Heidi Li Feldman and others made appearances on cable news, and a documentary, “The Audacity of Democracy,” was made about the PUMA movement, with financing from PUMA PAC.
The PUMAs had sought to play by the rules in 2008: The circulated a petition to get Clinton nominated at the convention in Denver. Defeated, some switched over to McCain, arguing that it would open up a new opportunity for Clinton in 2012. Others, calling themselves the Hillary 300 — after the 300 Spartans who defended Greece at the battle of Thermopylae — hundreds of Clinton supporters at the Denver convention petitioned to get a full roll-call vote to get Clinton in, arguing that the Democratic Party had committed malfeasance.
Since that summer, the PUMAs have faded into obscurity, but they haven’t gone away. Instead, they’ve hardened into a closed community of blogs and Twitter accounts, whether conservative or still reluctantly Democratic.
“We haven’t gone anyplace and we feel vindicated,” said Steve Rosinski, 46, the founder of the Write-In Hillary 2012 campaign, an actor who moved from Los Angeles to Nevada for cheaper housing. “It’s not like we’re trying to say, ‘We told you so,’ but we’re still here saying that we know what the right answer is,” he said.
Rosinski said he helped out with advance work during Bill Clinton’s first administration and campaigned for both Bill and Hillary. He runs his write-in campaign “like a full time job, although I have a lot of help,” he said in a telephone interview with BuzzFeed. He has multiple volunteers who help him update his Facebook and Twitter pages (“They’re like campaign staff,” Rosinski said).
Rosinski separated the post-PUMAs into four categories: “There’s a few who’ve said out of frustration they’re going to vote for Mitt Romney. Others say they’re going to vote for a third candidate like Roseanne Barr or Jill Stein. And a few have said out of fear that they’re going to vote for Obama because they’re so afraid of Romney.” And then, of course, there are the diehards who will never give up on Clinton.
In that last category is Darragh Murphy, who still regularly updates her PUMA Pac blog. Riverdaughter, whose real name is Kimberly Haas and who appeared alongside Murphy in “The Audacity of Democracy,” still writes frequently on her blog The Confluence. Hillaryis44, outed in 2008 as New York City political activist Alex Rodriguez, is a hub of the movement (“I love that blog,” said Rosinski), and updates multiple times per week. None of these blog’s proprietors returned requests for comment.
“Maybe it makes me a shallow person that Andrew Sullivan’s stark depiction of the epic stuttering clusterfuck of failure that is the presidency of barack obama makes me deliriously happy, but at least I have something to console my shallow self with: DELIRIOUS HAPPINESS, suckas!” Murphy wrote recently. The blogroll on her site features a litany of PUMA blogs, some inactive but many still updating.
“We all know that left to his own devices, he’s going to screw up again and put all our economic lives in jeopardy,” Haas wrote last week of Obama. “It’s just that the party is so invested in him.”
“It would be great if we could just declare the Obama presidency insolvent and nationalize the office for a better candidate,” Haas continued. “I’d vote for Biden in a pinch. Too bad he’s not on the top of the ticket.”
And those are the Democrats. “Ninety-nine percent of all PUMAs will be voting for Mitt Romney this year,” one woman who was active in the movement at the time, a college professor in Northern California who didn’t want her name used, told BuzzFeed.
Another leading figure in the movement is Kevin DuJan, a gay conservative who lives in Chicago and writes HillBuzz, once a pro-Hillary blog that has become a conservative analysis blog. DuJan, like Raccio, became a Republican after the disappointment of 2008.
He writes on his site’s bio that his “life mission is to bring the Democrat Party’s chickens home to roost.”
Once a lifelong Democrat loyalist, he broke with the party permanently on May 31st, 2008, the day the Democrat Rules & Bylaws Committee (headed by Donna Brazile and Howard Dean) stole delegates from Hillary Clinton and awarded them to Obama, cementing the party’s lurch to the far left. As a Clinton campaign supporter, Kevin was subjected to vile attacks for not “falling into line” and going along quietly with the Democrat party’s rebranding. He is one of millions of former Democrats who discovered the depth of their conservative leanings and ultimately migrated to the Republican party because of 2008′s seismic shift in the Democrats’ party leanings.
DuJan didn’t respond to a request for comment. His recent anti-Obama writings include “Is Barack Obama Gay?” (DuJan accuses Obama of having had an affair with actor Kal Penn) and “Class vs. Crass,” in which he compares Michelle Obama to Marie Antoinette. DuJan’s blogroll includes many standard conservative sites as well as the ubiquitous Hillary is 44.
It’s impossible to say how many people are still PUMAs, though the movement is obviously marginal. Rosinski’s Twitter account has about 3,900 followers — a small number for a political movement that hopes to depose a president.
Kyle Raccio, the San Francisco activist who pointed BuzzFeed to some of the aforementioned sites, has become an active presence on Twitter, retweeting Donald Trump and other conservative figures regularly and going on offense against journalists he perceives as liberal.
He is just 25 and still a student (“I’m unemployed in the Obama economy”), but “I don’t feel young,” he said. The experience of seeing his favorite candidate ever, the woman who he thought would save America, lose to a man he saw as unfit for the presidency has permanently marked his worldview.
“My level of respect for them has dropped enormously,” Raccio said of the Democrats. “Not because I’ve changed, but because they’ve changed.”