“Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.” That was one of the many prepared one-liners Andrew Gillum let fly during the second and final gubernatorial debate between himself and Republican Ron DeSantis. It was a frustrating night, with candidates hemmed in by restrictive time limits and few substantive subjects explored.
As a result, it was too easy for candidates to resort to personal attacks and rapid-fire accusations tailored to the format. For his part, Gillum resorted to a practiced technique, which is invoking controversial racial components. As DeSantis brought up any issue of a damaging nature -- a Tallahassee corruption scandal, crime rates in the city, or Gillum accepting bribed gifts from undercover FBI agents -- the mayor would attempt to pivot from possible damage by attempting to connect DeSantis to racism.
From the time he earned the Democratic nomination, Gillum has stated firmly he did not want race to be a central issue in the campaign. Yet, the subject is routinely and eagerly brought up ... by Andrew Gillum.
There he was in Wednesday’s debate, repeatedly bringing up the subject, playing the victim. He mentioned the desperate claim that DeSantis “has spoken at racist conferences.” This has been the oft-repeated canard that political conferences staged by David Horowitz were problematic because some of Horowitz's previous quotes have been less than flattering toward African Americans and other minorities.
- Did DeSantis say anything racist at one of these conferences? No.
- Was there any speech or panel at one the conferences that exposed racism? No.
- Was there any explanation given for the persons of color and Jewish pundits who attended? No.
But that label of “racist” conferences is trotted out. The racially reticent Gillum also referenced once again the virulent robo-calls that were sent out on Labor Day. With no connection to DeSantis, the state, or the Republican Party, Gillum was perfectly at ease invoking the hate-crime messages one more time. These were a cartoonishly infantile recording delivered by a supremacist group out of Idaho, which has created similar robo-calls in other states prior. But look at Andrew pouncing on the chance to smear DeSantis with them.
Gillum called for DeSantis to rebuke these racist calls at the debate -- even though he and his campaign had done so emphatically the day news of them came out. Andrew’s desire to revisit this easily dismissed event even defies his own campaign. His spokesman, Geoff Burgan, said the calls were meant only to fuel hatred; “Don’t give it undeserved attention.” If only his candidate had received the message.
When a new batch of calls came out last week, it gave Gillum another opportunity to discuss them anew with Chuck Todd at MSNBC. That was the day before the debate. Todd even stated that DeSantis and GOP members all denounced them, yet the Tallahassee mayor was declaring that this messaging “comes from the top,” and he listed off a number of racially charged issues he could attribute to DeSantis -- which he purportedly doesn't want to talk about.
The debate also had Gillum mentioning other racial issues, from the questionable comment DeSantis made at the start of the campaign, to a donor making disparaging remarks, and the unattributed claim that DeSantis "has neo-Nazis helping him out in this state.” Amazing how easily these charges spill out from the man who states he has no intention of mentioning this subject.
The rather transparent effort here is either to distract from the significant scandals, or to dismiss the charges as being rooted in a base cause of racism. Gillum has declared as much to his voters in a video message: “The goal is obviously to use my candidacy as a way to reinforce, frankly, stereotypes about black men.”
Burgan has announced that this has been “the ugliest, most divisive campaign in Florida's history,” and in many ways he is probably correct. Of course, he would probably hesitate to say his candidate has been responsible for much of that. As Wednesday night’s performance has shown, when it comes to bringing up ugly and divisive accusations, Andrew Gillum is more than willing to practice that method.
Just understand, he does not want race to become an issue ... each and every single time he brings up race.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.