Last week, jaws dropped when freshly-anointed Republican gubernatorial primary victor Ron DeSantis took to Fox News to warn voters not to “monkey this up” and elect “articulate” Andrew Gillum who “performed well” in debates. A bum rush ensued to deem his statement a “racist dog whistle”—as it is. There’s no denying that referring to monkeys when speaking of black people appeals to racists.
So abhorrent was his comment that it made national news bigly, all but crowding out the incredible come-from-behind primary win by under-funded Gillum against a pack of wealthy, establishment Democrats. Then, during the holiday weekend, another Gillum v. DeSantis scandal exploded over some racist robocalls purportedly paid for by the neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, Idaho-based The Road to Power podcast.
The fact that come November, Florida could elect not only its first black governor, but a liberal with a capital ‘L’, for the first time, gosh, ever, has been effectively relegated to also-happened.
This is a great strategy if we want Ron DeSantis to be the next governor of Florida.
Reach into the way back machine of your memory and recall the 2016 presidential campaign.
When Donald Trump won the Republican presidential primary, Democrats celebrated, even laughed. No way, they said, could a verbally incontinent lunatic with zero experience best a born-and-bred stateswoman with serious bona fides. This smug certainty spread with every mockery of a disabled reporter, “grab them by the p*ssy” tape, and incitement of violence at his campaign rallies, which felt something like roadside carnival versions of ’50s America.
There was a pattern to the campaign: Trump would say or do something shocking, stupid, blatantly false and/or racist. The media would explode with pearl-clutching and condemnation, playing the clip over and over to give every pancake-makeup-faced pundit a chance to sink their fangs in; meanwhile, his supporters were eating it up like the red meat it was. Plus they were getting increasingly irate at the piling-on of negative press over what, in some cases, wasn’t much of a much.
As I took in the avalanche of “monkey this up” tweets and newscasts, I recalled the woman who called me crying a day or two after Trump’s election. She blamed me for the outcome, saying my calling Trump “Cheeto Hitler” a week prior had convinced people to vote for him. Now, I don’t flatter myself into believing that an op-ed by an altweekly editor could possibly sway a national election, but she was right; I helped Trump become president.
So did CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post—basically every major media outlet, plus the vast majority of the local ones. We gave Trump a platform and he used it, and us, to win. Sure, we were technically doing our job by pointing out the awful things he was saying and doing, but the unnecessary constancy and feverish rabidity convinced a whole hell of a lot of people to vote for Trump, whom they viewed as an underdog unfairly maligned by the liberal elite. Hillary Clinton’s inept campaign had a lot to do with it, of course, but much of Trump’s ground game was supplied by the media.
This is not to say that DeSantis’ statement doesn’t deserve to be condemned and covered. But the more we ratchet up into a frenzy that blocks out all else, the less we are covering real stories, and the more we are helping his campaign. If Trump has taught us anything, it should be this.
Citizens do need to know when Ron DeSantis says or does something horrible. But they likewise need to know that he proposed legislation to defund the Mueller investigation in August 2017. Since then, there have been 32 indictments in Mueller’s probe, including 26 Russians and four former Trump campaign staffers. Yet even today, DeSantis doesn’t believe the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians.
It’s important that people know when a candidate says something appalling. I submit it is also important they know that DeSantis has spoken against football players kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality.
I’m sure everyone reading this knows DeSantis is a Trump sycophant. But do they also know he’s pledged to sign a bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, at roughly six to eight weeks of pregnancy, when many women do not even know they are pregnant? And that he wants more guns in schools?
Rather than the shock of the day and little else, voters should be informed that the American Conservative Union ranks DeSantis as “the most conservative member of Congress in Florida.” Out of a possible 100, his lifetime rating is 99.17, nearly 20 points higher than John McCain’s; in 2017, he was 26 points more conservative than Mitch McConnell and 20 points more than John Rutherford. He’s also essentially vowed to pack the state Supreme Court with far-right extremists whose views will be a far cry from most who live in this diverse, purply-blue state.
Racist dog whistles are worth reporting; speak of such as you must. But when you do, think of the dogs who will trot obediently to the polling booth every time they hear that signal, no matter whose mouth it comes from.