Andrew Gillum is smart not to take Ron DeSantis' 'monkey this up' bait

White people linking black people to monkeys has been a racist trope for centuries.That's why when Fl...

Posted: Aug 30, 2018 1:32 PM
Updated: Aug 30, 2018 1:32 PM

White people linking black people to monkeys has been a racist trope for centuries.

That's why when Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, used the phrase "monkey this up" when talking about the handling of the economy by his black Democratic opponent, it was hard to believe that the word choice was an accident.

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Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum, the youngest person ever elected to the Tallahassee City Commission, and the current mayor of the city, would be the state's first black governor if elected. Every Sunshine State voter knows this. So why would DeSantis -- a Yale and Harvard graduate -- make such a well-documented, racially-charged remark on the opening day of the gubernatorial competition?

One school of thought is that it's a dog whistle to rally white nationalists to the polls. Clearly this is what Dems believe, as illustrated by the party's swift response to DeSantis' remarks.

"It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles," Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement. The sentiment was echoed by David Turner, the Democratic Governors Association deputy communications director, who said that "resorting to dog-whistle politics within hours of winning the GOP nomination shows a desperate candidate who will stoop to new lows in order to court and give voice to fringe elements of society."

To Gillum's credit, he didn't spend a great deal of time chatting about the racial implications of DeSantis' remark, saying, "I'm not going to get down in the gutter with DeSantis and Trump. There's enough of that going on."

He is smart not to take the bait.

Rallying the troops is certainly one way of interpreting the potential reason for DeSantis' remarks. But so is goading an opponent.

Identity politics dominating an electoral conversation make for good tweets and jokes on late-night TV, but they also have proven to be a largely detrimental strategy for Democrats post-2008. During President Barack Obama's tenure, when those running for state seats focused too much on not being the party of old, white men and not enough on, say, the benefits of the much maligned Affordable Care Act, nearly 1,000 legislative state seats went from blue to red and the number of Democratic-held governor's offices went from 29 to 16, the party's lowest since 1920. Of the nation's 50 states, only eight are controlled by both blue legislatures and governor.

Why is this particularly important this year? Because the state legislatures and governors in place in 2021 will be in charge of redrawing the congressional district maps after the 2020 US Census.

At a time when the Democratic Party seems to be struggling to find its footing, allowing a platform to be hijacked by a "DeSantis is a racist" narrative would not help. It recalls the comments about half of Trump backers being racists and xenophobes that helped undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign.

This may be hard to digest, but voters really don't care if you're offended.

At least not enough to overshadow their concern over issues like jobs, health care, immigration and abortion.

Perhaps Gillum gets this, which is why he didn't invest a lot of time in the conversation.

Consider this: White House officials can't say whether or not President Donald Trump is on a recording using the n-word, but there has been little evidence to show that the inability of officials to guarantee that the President didn't make the remark makes a difference to his supporters. Sure, it's off-putting to some, but there are more pressing concerns.

So instead of investing time and energy trying to saddle DeSantis with an inflammatory label, leaders of the Democratic party in Florida should concentrate on convincing uneasy voters their plan is better for the state than that of Gillum's counterpart.

That's not to say calling out racial dog whistles isn't important, only that it shouldn't be a dominant talking point.

A man with two Ivy League degrees is aware of the ramifications of linking black people to monkeys. Firing up a small fraction of his base is one result. Making his opponent's entire campaign all about being offended is another.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 69374

Reported Deaths: 1989
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5700119
DeSoto371031
Harrison260136
Madison245569
Jackson231444
Rankin230735
Jones193159
Forrest182656
Washington170142
Lee152142
Lauderdale141592
Neshoba128892
Lamar123115
Bolivar113635
Oktibbeha113339
Warren112535
Lowndes109239
Panola106816
Sunflower105625
Scott101120
Lafayette98719
Copiah96228
Leflore94966
Pike94037
Holmes91049
Grenada85123
Pontotoc8429
Yazoo84113
Lincoln83442
Monroe82155
Simpson80631
Leake79526
Coahoma78113
Wayne78021
Tate74330
Marshall7129
Marion68420
Union66216
Adams63225
Winston62916
Covington62214
George5956
Pearl River55940
Newton54511
Tallahatchie54111
Attala52725
Walthall50221
Chickasaw47619
Noxubee46112
Tishomingo4377
Alcorn4355
Calhoun4259
Prentiss42310
Claiborne40914
Smith40613
Hancock40214
Clay40114
Jasper3949
Itawamba38710
Tippah37414
Tunica3587
Clarke33626
Montgomery3295
Lawrence3238
Yalobusha31610
Humphreys29712
Quitman2691
Carroll26111
Greene25612
Perry2428
Amite2376
Webster23712
Kemper23314
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21513
Stone2115
Sharkey2045
Jefferson1957
Benton1451
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 100801

Reported Deaths: 1814
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13366246
Mobile10581212
Montgomery6825151
Madison546934
Tuscaloosa426979
Unassigned392566
Baldwin367029
Shelby333437
Marshall319438
Lee270847
Morgan241819
Etowah218034
DeKalb183414
Calhoun181918
Elmore176039
Walker154465
Houston142813
Russell13892
St. Clair136320
Limestone135913
Dallas133624
Franklin129722
Cullman123012
Colbert121517
Lauderdale119020
Autauga116222
Escambia108817
Talladega105414
Jackson10264
Tallapoosa87579
Chambers84738
Dale84329
Clarke82610
Chilton8189
Blount8165
Butler77036
Coffee7656
Covington74021
Pike7137
Marion58226
Barbour5796
Lowndes57124
Marengo56616
Hale48526
Bullock48111
Winston45711
Perry4454
Bibb4445
Washington44412
Wilcox43410
Monroe4236
Pickens4089
Randolph40211
Conecuh39310
Sumter36618
Lawrence3542
Macon33914
Crenshaw3326
Choctaw28912
Cherokee2768
Clay2675
Geneva2652
Henry2643
Greene25211
Lamar2302
Fayette2235
Cleburne1291
Coosa1053
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