Politics

Florida’s Ron DeSantis Doubles Down on ‘Monkey This Up’ Comment

‘It has zero to do with race,’ GOP governor candidate says

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., won the GOP primary for Florida governor on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Ron DeSantis, who won the GOP nomination Tuesday for Florida’s governor race later this year, leaned into a comment he made Wednesday on Fox News that voters should not “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, who is black.

“It has zero to do with race,” DeSantis, who is vacating his seat in Florida’s 6th District to run for governor, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on prime time Wednesday night, just hours after he made the “monkey” remark.

“It has everything to do with whether we want Florida to continue to go in a good direction, building off this success, or do we want to turn to left-wing, socialist policies, which will absolutely devastate our state,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis accused Gillum and Democrats of trying to “obscure” the debate on policy differences between the two candidates by calling out what many, including Florida Democratic party chairman Terry Rizzo, saw as a classic racial dog whistle.

Gillum indicated to Fox News’ Shepard Smith that DeSantis’ comment ran abreast of many of the controversial statements of President Donald Trump when he was campaigning for the White House in 2015 and 2016.

“Well, in the handbook of Donald Trump, they no longer do whistle calls,” Gillum said. “They are now using full bullhorns.”

Defending his comment Wednesday, DeSantis said he believes people “should be judged based on their ability and character regardless of race.”

He has claimed Gillum, who was an early backer and later a delegate of Hillary Clinton in 2016, will lead Florida down a path toward socialism. Gillum has never claimed to be part of the Democratic Socialist movement in the left reaches of the Democratic Party.

“I know that socialism won’t work in Florida,” DeSantis said. “It’s not good for any race, color or creed. So this is not about race. This is about ideas and principles.”

DeSantis may not have apologized for his “monkey” comment Wednesday, but Fox News revisited it.

After one commercial break, Fox News anchor Sandra Smith read a statement from DeSantis campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson saying that to characterize DeSantis’ comments as racist “is absurd.”

That qualified as a clarification for Fox.

“We do not condone this language,” Smith said, “and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement.”

Watch: McCain vs. Trump: Can the President Give Up the Spotlight?

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.