During an appearance on Fox News with Sandra Smith, DeSantis, who is white, doled out backhanded compliments to Gillum, who is black, calling him “an articulate spokesman.” He said Gillum performed better than other candidates, just before arguing that Florida shouldn’t elect him.
“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,” said DeSantis to Smith.
Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, is backed by Bernie Sanders and is campaigning on progressive policies. President Donald Trump has expressed his support for DeSantis.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018
When asked for comment, Gillum’s campaign referred HuffPost to Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.
“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Rizzo said in a statement sent to HuffPost after the interview.
Stephen Lawson, communications director for DeSantis’ campaign said the comments were about Florida’s economy.
“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,” Lawson 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.”
Fox News aired a follow-up segment after the debacle, calling the comment “inappropriate” and indicating that DeSantis has since “clarified” his statement.
“We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement,” said Smith in the segment.
Still, DeSantis’ remarks about “monkeying this up” sent Twitter into mass outrage:
Uh Ron DeSantis just said FL shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum pic.twitter.com/nDPp3Hx7zc
— Steve Morris (@stevemorris__) August 29, 2018
12 hrs into the general election cycle, Ron DeSantis has already alluded to Andrew Gillum as a 'monkey.' This is the spirit of racial animus that fuels today's GOP. That Trump and his friends in politics use to energize a white base. It's baseless + un-American.
— Benji Gellman ? (@benjigellman) August 29, 2018
Today in racism: GOP candidate Ron DeSantis said Floridians shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum. The sad truth: this will make him more appealing to segments of the population. #cretin
— Luisa Giulianetti (@LitLuisa) August 29, 2018
They‘ve only been running against each other for 10 hours!! GOP nominee #FLGov Ron DeSantis just said Florida shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum the African American man who last night became the Dems nomineee. Not racist at all.pic.twitter.com/Lk2W0glYxG
— Michelle Bhasin (@michellebhasin) August 29, 2018
What? Excuse me?That Republican dog whistle is more like a megaphone lately.GOP nominee for #FLGov Ron DeSantis just said Florida shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum.What. The. Holy. Balls.#WednesdayWisdom #TakeItBackpic.twitter.com/tUlyFQBUSs
— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) August 29, 2018
In Florida news, Ron Desantis said (on live TV) that Andrew Gillum will "monkey this up" regarding running Florida. RT so that we can let more people know what coded racist words this man uses.
— lindalaveck ❄️ (@lindalaveck) August 29, 2018
Less than 12 hours after Andrew Gillum's primary win, Ron DeSantis referred to him as "articulate" and said Florida shouldn't "monkey up" the state. Is he trying to win at racist bingo or the Governor's race? https://t.co/rJO1e7p4dd
— Joel Wertheimer (@Wertwhile) August 29, 2018
This story has been updated to include comments from DeSantis and Fox News.