Elizabeth Warren and the new PUMAs

Once upon a time, back in the old days during the end of W’s second term, there was a presidential primary election taking place among the Democrats. Hillary Clinton was in a pitched battle with Barack Obama which stretched very late in the season and created all sorts of tension and conflict among the normally unified ranks of the liberals. When the dust settled, Obama came out on top by the thinnest of margins, and while Hillary did her best to stifle a scowl and endorse the winner, a number of her backers were too far up on their hind legs to just walk away. This led to the rise of a group known among politicos as the PUMAs. (“Party Unity My A**”) We began to hear some whispers of hope among conservatives that perhaps the progressive block would fracture and open the door for John McCain to win. Well… we all know how that turned out.

This year we may be witnessing the beginnings of a similar division, but this time the roles have changed. Hillary still seems to be the heavyweight champion in the Democrat’s ring, but there are more than a few recalcitrant liberals who want Elizabeth Warren to seize the nomination. After it was revealed that the two women had held a secret meeting back in December, some of Warren’s supporters were not exactly sticking with the party line message when they interpreted what it meant.

Ilya Sheyman, the executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, which with Democracy for America launched the project Run Warren Run, sounded emboldened. “It’s more evidence that Sen. Warren and progressives are driving the conversation within the Democratic Party,” he said, through a spokesman. “That’s why we’re eager for Elizabeth Warren to run for President, and any candidate would do well to speak to the issues she’s led on — like tackling income inequality, student debt, and taking on the big banks.”

Erica Sagrans, who works as campaign manager for another pro-Warren endeavor, Ready for Warren, used the occasion to stress Warren’s momentum. “Secretary Clinton’s meeting with Senator Warren indicates that she is among a growing number of Democratic leaders who admire Warren’s willingness to stand up to the big banks and special interests,” Sagrans said, before jumping to the punchline. “This is why we’re calling on Warren to run for president in 2016.”

We’ll have to leave it to Hillary and Warren to say precisely what the content of that conversation was (if they ever do) and, at least for Hillary, what she hoped to get out of it. It’s not difficult to imagine, though, that Clinton was hoping to get an even stronger endorsement from Warren for her nascent campaign and to quell the discontent of the Warren backers who would rather see the Massachusetts Senator take the bull by the horns and grab for the brass ring herself.

Clearly this has backfired. The Ready for Warren crowd is pretty much throwing dirt on Clinton by painting the meeting as some sort of signal that even Hillary can see what a great president Warren would make. But the fact is that Warren has now said she’s not running so many times, in so many ways and at every opportunity offered that it’s difficult to see how she backs down from that now. The only thing I could imagine driving her off that perch would either be a major misstep or announcement by Hillary which severely reduced her viability as a general election candidate or having her drop out entirely.

So what happens if she doesn’t run? Her backers certainly seem to be taking a PUMA style stance at the moment, but without Warren’s name on the ballot, where else do they have to go? Bernie Sanders? That’s a suicide dive off the political cliff. And the idea that they might start registering protest votes by backing the Republican is a fantasy. Remember… they’re only opposing Hillary Clinton because they feel that she is insufficiently liberal.

While this is still entertaining political theater, I remain unconvinced that the Draft Warren movement is going anywhere. Nor do I see it as being a factor in either the primary or the general election absent a huge about face by Warren herself. Alas, the PUMA dream remains just that… a dream.