Ron DeSantis, who emerged victorious in the Republican gubernatorial Florida primary Tuesday night, will now face off against Democrat nominee Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee. In an interview with Fox News Wednesday, DeSantis used derogatory language to describe his opponent, who is a black man.
When "America's Newsroom" anchor Sandra Smith asked DeSantis how he planned to take on Gillum in the fall, the GOP candidate responded, "This is a guy who – although he's much too liberal for Florida – I think he's got huge problems with how he's governed Tallahassee."
While Gillum is an "articulate spokesman for those far left views," DeSantis added that "we have to work hard to make sure we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success of Governor [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 is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida."
Smith did not flinch. About an hour later, the Fox anchor addressed the word choice. "A little while ago, we had Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor in Florida on for an interview to discuss the Florida election," she said. "During the interview, he made what some are calling an inappropriate comment about his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum."
Smith then read a statement from the DeSantis campaign, which did not apologize for the comment but claimed that the Republican politician "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."
"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," the statement continued.
And Smith added, "We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement."
Across social media, however, others have questioned DeSantis' choice of words. As one user said, there are a myriad of popular phrases – like "mess this up," "screw this up," or "goof this up" – that would have been a better and more common choice if "making the wrong decision" was indeed all that DeSantis had meant to say.
"It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles," Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo tweeted.
CNN political commentator Keith Boykin wrote on Twitter, "Just to make sure I'm not overreacting, I did a Google search and I could find no example of any other politician in history using the phrase 'monkey this up' before Ron DeSantis used it today about Andrew Gillum. This is not even coded. It's just racist."
The usage of "monkey" when referring to a black person recalls when actress Roseanne Barr compared Valerie Jarrett, a black woman, to an ape on Twitter in May. Both descriptors have been used in this country historically to dehumanize, animalize and degrade black people.
DeSantis also gained the support of President Donald Trump, who recently called former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman a "dog." He wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning, "Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream....a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!"
In a new video posted by Politico, Gillum responded to DeSantis' Fox News interview and Trump's tweet, saying "Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are both scraping from the bottom of the barrel."
"I actually believe that Florida and its rich diversity are going to be looking for a governor who's going to bring us together. Not divide us. Not misogynists. Not racists. Not bigots," he continued. "They're going to be looking for a governor who is going to appeal to our higher aspirations as a state, who is going to talk about what it means to build a Florida that makes room for all of us."