Ron DeSantis will be the next governor of Florida, defeating Andrew Gillum in a stunning testament to the enduring power of race in American electoral politics. The contest was relentlessly Floridian from the jump: contentious, long too-close-to-call, and chock-full of shady electioneering. But even as the news arrived soon after a victory in New York's 19th Congressional District for Antonio Delgado-a Rhodes Scholar whose Republican opponent referred to him as a "big-city rapper"-the Florida Republican's triumph over Gillum in this race was a crushing victory for racial resentment as a tactic for turning out the conservative base.
The Florida race burst onto the national scene in earnest after a clip from one of the debates between Gillum and DeSantis went viral. After the moderator asked DeSantis about his unfortunate habit of speaking at white-nationalist conferences, and DeSantis responded with a glass-shattering whine, Gillum went to work. In the process, he showed anyone running against someone peddling racial resentment how to deftly dismantle that opponent:
As my grandmother used to say - a hit dog will holler. pic.twitter.com/kC34Ldd0is
- Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) October 25, 2018
"Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist."
It helps that there was some real meat to Gillum's accusation. DeSantis did have the support of white supremacists, including in the form of robocalls from a group called Road to Power featuring a voice caricaturing a black dialect that refers to Gillum as a "negro." Immediately after winning the Republican nomination, DeSantis said Gillum would "monkey this up" if he won. The Washington Post reported DeSantis spoke at conferences organized by David Horowitz, an increasingly fringe figure who's said, “African Americans owe their freedom to white people," and "the country’s 'only serious race war' is against whites." DeSantis did happily accept a donation and a speaking gig from a man who called President Barack Obama a "f-- Muslim n--" on Twitter.
The current president also found a way to insert himself in the race with his customary finesse. He took to calling Gillum a "thief" and "a stone-cold thief" without basis, echoing his characterizations of Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams as "crime loving" and "totally unqualified." Trump traveled to rally for DeSantis in the days leading up to the election, playing all the notes on the racist bullhorn. The best attack DeSantis could muster against Gillum was that he'd accepted Hamilton tickets from a man who turned out to be an FBI agent investigating Tallahassee’s Community Redevelopment Agency for possible corruption. Gillum said he thought his brother had paid for the tickets, and was not targeted in the probe.
In the end, though, DeSantis had no plan to expand healthcare coverage for Floridians, or to follow through on the breathlessly shameless new Republican pledge to protect coverage for preexisting conditions. His economic plan is more tax cuts. Days after yet another deadly mass shooting, this time in Tallahassee, Florida has elected a governor who pledged he would have voted against the modest gun-control reforms signed by his Republican predecessor, Rick Scott. And most of all, the state has rejected a black man who called his opponent out for exactly what he is-a reliable friend to racists-and elevated that man to serve as the executive of the nation's third most-populous state.
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