The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ron DeSantis controversies likely hurting him with minority voters. But that may not mean much.

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks to the media at the Florida International University on Thursday in Miami. (AP) (Brynn Anderson/AP)

When former congressman Ron DeSantis launched his campaign to be Florida’s governor, he promised voters that he would be a localized version of President Trump, the man who endorsed his campaign after repeatedly watching him defend and support the administration on Fox News.

But since then, DeSantis has gotten national attention for embodying one of the worst criticisms of Trumpism: the idea that his campaign traffics in the promoting of white supremacy.

The latest example of that went public Thursday when it was revealed that one of his donors used the n-word in a tweet criticizing former president Barack Obama. The same donor helped arrange for DeSantis to give a speech at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.

The campaign told the Associated Press that the thousands of dollars from Steven Alembik’s company, SMA Communications, was accepted and spent before the Aug. 28 primary, but that DeSantis’s campaign wouldn’t be accepting any more donations from him. The AP reported:

SMA Communications donated $2,000 to DeSantis’ campaign and $2,000 to DeSantis’ political committee. Another $11,000 in donations from Alembik and SMA were returned in June, three months before Alembik’s tweet. The campaign wasn’t sure why the money was returned, but said it was unrelated.

Campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson rejected any idea that his boss supports Alembik’s use of a racial slur against the former president.

“We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: we adamantly denounce this sort of disgusting rhetoric,” Lawson told the news service.

But the problem for many watching this race is that DeSantis actually has a history of racial controversies and insensitive remarks.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who's running for governor in Florida, spoke at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conferences in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. (Video: The David Horowitz Freedom Center)

The Washington Post previously reported that DeSantis spoke four times at conferences 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.”

During a nearly 30-minute speech at a 2015 event in Charleston, DeSantis praised Horowitz saying: “David has done such great work, and I’ve been an admirer. 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.”

And last month, The Fix reported that less than 48 hours after the primary elections in Florida, DeSantis was harshly criticized after he went on Fox News and described his Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, as “an articulate spokesman” for those holding “far-left views.” His caution to voters about what could happen if Gillum, who could be Florida’s first black governor, was elected received the most scorn. DeSantis said:

“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. That is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

His team denied the idea that his words were racist, calling the suggestion “absurd” and Lawson claimed that DeSantis was actually attacking Gillum’s “socialist policies."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis on Aug. 29 said Florida voters would “monkey this up” if they elected Democrat Andrew Gillum. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

And earlier this summer, DeSantis’s dismissive comments about New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were deemed both racist and sexist. At a July campaign event, he said:

“You look at this girl, Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe. It’s basically socialism wrapped in ignorance. And it’s problematic.”

Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to call the then lawmaker out on his comments, writing:

“Rep DeSantis, it seems you‘re confused as to ‘whatever I am.’ I am a Puerto Rican woman. It‘s strange you don’t know what that is, given that ~75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida in the 10 mos since María. But I’m sure these new FL voters appreciate your comments!”

And Gillum has repeatedly responded to DeSantis’s words as divisive and inconsistent with the Florida voters want. After news broke about the Republican’s controversial donor, Gillum told the A.P.:

“It is up to Congressman DeSantis to explain to Floridians why he has chosen to associate himself with right wing extremist groups and divisive individuals who want to pit us against one another."

But DeSantis may not have to. Similar associations, including an endorsement from the newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan, threatened to bring Trump’s presidential campaign down. Instead the novice politician won the electoral college, including Florida, where GOP voters still approve of Trumpism despite his low approval numbers with black and Latino voters.

DeSantis is currently trailing Gillum by six points according to the most recent Reuters poll, but the election is still more than a month away. Prior to 2016, these repeated headlines would have toppled the DeSantis campaign, but in these post-Trump years, it’s not surprising to see that he is still competitive despite comments that make many Floridians wonder if his vision for a great Florida includes them.