Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee to become Florida’s next governor, has been accused by Democrats of using a “racist dog whistle” after saying during a TV interview Wednesday morning that voters would take the state’s functioning economy and “monkey this up” by electing his liberal African-American opponent.
DeSantis made the comment at 9:36 a.m. while appearing on FOX News following his victory in the Republican primary. He was speaking about Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who won the Democratic primary after being endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist.
“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum. “I watched those Democratic debates. None of that is my cup of tea but, he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. 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’s not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”
Almost immediately, Democrats rushed to condemn DeSantis’ statements.
“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo tweeted, with a link to a YouTube clip from the interview.
The Democratic Governors Association sent out a press release with the clip. Incoming Florida House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, who is black, said DeSantis had invoked “racism and division as his platform.”
“Shame on you Ron DeSantis,” McGhee, a south Dade Democrat and former prosecutor, said in a statement. “But even more, shame on those who remain quiet and refuse to call this what it is: RACIST.”
Stephen Lawson, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, called the assertion “absurd.”
“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” he said. “Florida’s economy has been on the move for the last eight years and the last thing we need is a far-left Democrat trying to stop our success.”
State Rep. Byron Donalds, the only black Republican in the state Legislature, said DeSantis’ comment was not racist and the debate around it is an “unfortunate distraction.”
“That man is not racist at all, period,” Donalds said. “We are going to have a very, very polarizing race for governor and the thing that nobody needs is to have a word taken out of context to make this race divisive. It was just a choice of words, there’s nothing to it. I’m saying that because I know the man. Everything in this race is going to be scrutinized down to the letter, forget the word, we just don’t need that in our state.”
A Fox News host later addressed DeSantis’ comments after the gubernatorial nominee left the show, stating that the station does not condone DeSantis’ choice of words.
“During the interview, he made what some are calling an inappropriate comment about his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum,” host Sandra Smith said. “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement. Also, Mayor Gillum will be on with Shepard Smith today at 3 p.m.”
Hours after DeSantis made his remarks, the “monkey it up” phrase was trending on social media, with some users noting that DeSantis’ choice of phrasing was not a commonly used expression.
“Holy sh-t!!! On the first day???,” outgoing state senate minority leader Oscar Braynon tweeted.