The Media Say Republican Florida Gubernatorial Candidate Ron DeSantis Just Dropped A Racist Dog Whistle. That’s Silly.


On Wednesday, the political world set itself alight thanks to the comments of Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis. Appearing on Fox News, DeSantis made the case for why Floridians shouldn’t vote for his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who won an upset victory in the Democratic primaries.

DeSantis stated:

Florida elections are always competitive, and 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, he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views, and he’s a charismatic candidate. I watched those Democrat debates, and none of that is my cup of tea, but he performed better than those 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 on Governor 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.

Gillum, of course, is black. The phrase “monkey this up” immediately generated accusations of “dog whistling” from DeSantis — the implication that DeSantis was engaging in a subtle form of racism, telling Floridians not to vote for the black candidate. Yes, in the midst of praising Gillum as a highly competent and articulate candidate, DeSantis supposedly just decided to remind closet racists that Gillum is black by using a phrase everyone understands to mean “mess things up.”

This is wildly dishonest stuff. Take, for example, this headline from The Hill:

No, DeSantis didn’t say that Floridians shouldn’t “‘monkey this up’ by voting for black candidate.” He said Floridians shouldn’t “monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases.”

Nonetheless, this is apparently, according to the media, a nefarious dog whistle.

This requires us to ask a question. What was DeSantis’ racist strategy? To use a word that, when used as a verb, as DeSantis did here, is defined by the dictionary as “to play or trifle idly; fool“? A word that is commonly used in a variety of political contexts (see, for example, Gillum himself using the term “monkey on the commission’s back” here)? Was DeSantis so clever about his wording that he knew that a common phrase, applied to a socialist candidate who happens to be black, would activate his evil white supremacist voters? If so, why wasn’t he clever enough to realize that the world would come crashing down on him? After all, that was pretty predictable, wasn’t it?

That’s the way our politics operate. Mitt Romney was slandered as a racist for using the term “tar baby” to describe the Big Dig in Boston in 2006; George Allen may have lost a Virginia senate race after he suggested an Indian reporter’s name was “Macaca,” which, as it turns out, is a Portuguese slur for black people (Allen was, presumably, an expert in Portuguese racial slurs); in 1999, an aide to the mayor of Washington D.C. lost his job for using the word “niggardly” to describe a budget (the word has no connection with the racial slur). Everyone in politics is quite aware of the blowback that invariably occurs after even the slightest suggestion of using a racial slur. So the theory is that DeSantis decided to risk his gubernatorial run to use the phrase “monkey it up,” thereby signaling the latent KKK membership? That’s the suggestion?

Or perhaps the suggestion is that DeSantis suffers from an unconscious racism and thus peppers his speech with racist faux pas. If so, some record of his repeated use of such language would be in order. In fact, there’s no record of any racism from DeSantis.

Or perhaps we might consider the simplest explanation: that DeSantis said the phrase without any racial intent, that he didn’t make any reference to Gillum’s race, and that the media have an interest in suggesting that DeSantis is a racist in order to damage him in his gubernatorial race. Which of these explanations seems most likely to you?

It turns out that most dog whistles aren’t whistles — they’re calls. You don’t have to go far to identify white political dog whistles from President Trump, for example (see Charlottesville). But the Left’s constant assertion that every misspeak by a Republican is evidence of a new Southern strategy does lead Republicans to start tuning out the Left on racial issues, to their own detriment. You can’t cry racial wolf — or racial “dog whistle” — this often without undermining the veracity of the label itself. And that does lead to more tolerance of actual dog whistles.

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