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Opinion writer

Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis has a problem, one he shares with a lot of Republicans these days: For some reason, racists are attracted to his campaign and seem eager to give him money and lend their vocal support.

Why does this keep happening to members of the Republican Party who desire nothing but equality and respect for all people? It’s a real mystery.

Here’s the latest controversy DeSantis is dealing with:

A Republican activist who donated more than $20,000 to Ron DeSantis and lined up a speech for him at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club called President Obama a “F—- MUSLIM N—-” on Twitter recently, in addition to other inflammatory remarks.

Steven M. Alembik told POLITICO Wednesday he wrote the Obama tweet in anger, that he’s “absolutely not” a racist and that he understood that DeSantis’s campaign for governor would need to distance himself from the comments — which the campaign promptly did.

“We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: we adamantly denounce this sort of disgusting rhetoric,” DeSantis campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said in a written statement.

Of course, a candidate can’t be responsible for everything any supporter of his says. But this isn’t the first time DeSantis has had to deal with this issue. On multiple occasions, he has distanced himself from a prominent supporter who said something racist, or found himself criticized for appearing at an event with people who had said racist things, or in one case said something himself that many people considered racist (just after the primary, he said on television that the voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum, who is African American).

DeSantis may have been embroiled in an unusual number of these controversies, but it’s what every Republican candidate worries about these days. What if some supporter of mine says something shockingly racist? What if that guy who introduced me at that rally turns out to be a klansman? What if I get endorsed by some neo-Nazi group?

But you know who doesn’t have to worry about getting endorsed by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and racists? People who don’t give neo-Nazis, white nationals and racists any reason to believe that they share their views.

Now, it’s true that there are Republican elected officials who don’t. But just by virtue of being Republicans in 2018, being lumped in with racists is a risk they run. Their favored news outlets are positively saturated with white nationalist rhetoric. Their party is led by a man who is not only an obvious bigot but who also turned himself into a political figure by advocating the racist lie that Barack Obama is not actually an American, who ran a presidential campaign built on xenophobia and racial resentment, and who, in office, continues to stoke fear and hatred of immigrants. President Trump doesn’t get celebrated on white nationalist websites because they’re laboring under some misimpression about who he is. So, if you’re a Republican standing enthusiastically behind Trump, racists have every reason in the world to think you’re on their side.

But the vast majority of conservatives will tell you that they strongly believe in racial equality. Even the donor who wrote “F— THE MUSLIM N—–” about Obama says he is “absolutely not” a racist. They do believe, however, that they are constantly being unfairly accused of being racists by liberals. They eat up laughable pseudo-histories such as the work of Dinesh D’Souza claiming that Democrats are the real racists. And, at the urging of media figures such as Rush Limbaugh, they have become convinced that white people are the last legitimate victims of racism in America today, regularly held back and tied down by a system that distributes spoils to minorities while leaving them to struggle on nothing but their own merit against unfair advantages given to others. In other words, they’re deeply invested in the idea that they are absolutely, positively not racist, and they abhor any effort to divide Americans by race.

This requires no small measure of self-persuasion, as does arguing for policies that have obvious racial motivations. Because it’s hard to look into the minds of others, I have no idea how many Republicans actually believe it when they say, for instance, that their broad range of voter suppression laws, many of which are specifically designed to fall more heavily on minority voters in general and African Americans in particular, are motivated by nothing but concern for the integrity of the ballot. I have no idea whether they believe it when they say there’s nothing racially motivated involved when they make a political issue out of the murder of a young woman when her alleged killer is an immigrant, but ignore a nearly identical case when the alleged murderer is a white man. I have no idea if they believe there is nothing wrong with responding to the shooting of a black teenager by police by saying he was probably a thug who had it coming, but responding to an allegation of attempted rape by a white teenager by saying it was just “horseplay.”

But you know who doesn’t have any doubt? The unapologetic racists. And so Republicans who think themselves to be people of goodwill might ask themselves: Why is it that all these racists are so supportive of my party? Why is it that a bunch of actual Nazis won Republican nominations for elected offices this year, and our nominee for the Senate in Virginia is a neo-Confederate? Why is it that every white nationalist thinks they can find a home in the GOP? And what can I do to change that?

I would be interested to hear their ideas. But so far, we’ve heard pretty much nothing.