The Florida gubernatorial race has attracted more race-related headlines than almost any midterm race in 2018. Even before Democratic and Republican candidates won their respective primaries, race was going to be a major topic in the Florida gubernatorial race. If elected, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum would be the state’s first black governor.
And after winning the GOP primary, former congressman Ron DeSantis was criticized for warning Floridians that Gillum would “monkey this up” if he won the state’s highest office. DeSantis said he was referring to Gillum’s “socialist politics.” But the Republican was widely criticized for his word choice nevertheless. For many, perceptions about DeSantis were set at that moment.
During a debate Wednesday, DeSantis passionately rejected the suggestion that he is a racist.
Gillum responded: “My grandmother used to say, ‘A hit dog will holler,’ and it hollered through this room. ... First of all, he’s got neo-Nazis helping him out in this state.”
He later added: “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
Gillum has been the subject of negative robo-calls from the Road to Power, an Idaho-based podcast hosted by Scott Rhodes. The robo-calls referred to Gillum as a “negro” and featured a man performing a caricature of black American dialect.
DeSantis’s campaign has disavowed the calls, but there are other white-supremacy-linked individuals DeSantis hasn’t distanced himself from. In fact, quite the opposite.
The Washington Post previously reported that DeSantis was a speaker 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.”
And during a nearly 30-minute speech at such an event in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, 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.”
DeSantis’s relationship with a donor who used the n-word in a tweet criticizing former president Barack Obama also made headlines. The donor, Steven Alembik, also arranged for DeSantis to give a speech at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. A campaign spokesman called Alembik’s racist language “disgusting,” but DeSantis’s team did not return Alembik’s donation.
And DeSantis was also criticized for comments about New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that some deemed 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!”
Gillum is right. People who embrace white supremacy are embracing DeSantis, and that is likely to concern the thousands of voters of color in Florida, one of the country’s most diverse states, and their white allies.
But this should be of no surprise to anyone following the campaign. Very early in the race, DeSantis hitched himself to President Trump’s wagon, even going so far as to film a campaign ad of himself teaching his infant to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep immigrants from entering the country.
Policy ideas like this gained Trump the support of white supremacists from the KKK to less well-known activists who support a whites-only state. Therefore, it should not be a shock that those same individuals who believe that Gillum is beneath them because of his blackness would rally behind DeSantis. To the Republican candidate’s credit, he has publicly denounced blatantly racist comments. But in our current political climate, where dog-whistling is the new norm, the fact that those with racist views see DeSantis as the best person to represent them politically shows that Gillum is right: White nationalists want DeSantis in the governor’s mansion, just like they want Trump in Washington.