Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) launched his campaign to be the next governor of Florida by promising to localize President Trump's message of making America great again. But since he officially became the GOP nominee two weeks ago, two incidents involving reports and DeSantis's own words have already prompted questions about his views on race.
The Washington Post's Beth Reinhard and Emma Brown report that De Santis was a speaker four times at a conference organized by David Horowitz, a conservative activist who has moved further to the fringes in recent years and has said that “African Americans owe their freedom to white people and that the country’s 'only serious race war' is against whites.”
His Twitter feed has also been inflammatory. Here's a sampling:
During a nearly 30-minute speech at the 2015 event in Charleston, DeSantis spoke of his admiration for Horowitz.
“David has done such great work, and I’ve been an admirer,” DeSantis said then. “I’ve been to these conferences in the past, but I’ve been a big admirer of an organization that shoots straight, tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing.”
Other speakers at Horowitz's conferences have included conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, former Breitbart chairman Stephen K. Bannon and British conservative Katie Hopkins, in addition to mainstream figures like former governors Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee.
DeSantis was harshly criticized after he went on Fox News the day after the primary and described his Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is black, as “an articulate spokesman” for those holding “far-left views.” But it was another quote about Gillum, who could be Florida’s first black governor, that received the most scorn.
“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” DeSantis said.
“You look at this girl, Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe,” he said then. “It’s basically socialism wrapped in ignorance. And it’s problematic.”
Trump remains a popular figure among Republican voters in Florida, so DeSantis's desire to align himself with a president known for rejecting political correctness and taking some of the most conservative positions in the culture wars on race issues isn't surprising. But if for no other reason than his electoral chances, DeSantis should be wary of piling up more questions about his views on race in a state as ethnically diverse as Florida.