In the year of our lord 2018 I’m not staking anything on any politician’s good faith, left or right. Riddle me this about DeSantis’s “monkey up” comment here, though: Is the claim that he made this crack unintentionally, that it slipped out because he’s a secret racist, or is the idea that he said it deliberately, as a “dog whistle” to right-wing voters? Because he’s getting killed for this on social media this afternoon and virtually all of his critics seem to be in the second camp, and I just don’t see how that works logically. Watch, then read on:

If you think it was some sort of racist Freudian slip, okay, but there’s no point arguing about that. It’s unfalsifiable. If you think it was a “dog whistle,” explain how he gains more than he loses by doing it. If I had asked his left-wing critics yesterday, before he made this remark, who DeSantis’s base in Florida is, they would have said, “The damned racist Trumpers! He’s been humping Trump’s leg for months!” And it’s true, DeSantis hugged Trump more tightly during the GOP primary than any other candidate in the country, which is no mean feat. If he needs POTUS to campaign for him in Florida this fall, it’s a cinch that Trump will do it. As such, DeSantis should have zero trouble getting righty populists out to vote for him. His difficulty potentially is with centrists: Having hugged the president so tightly for so long, how does he win over people in the middle who aren’t thrilled with Trump? Those are the ones he needs to pander to (and why he might not be eager to have Trump hit the trail in Florida after all).

Every liberal political junkie in the country would have told you that yesterday. Today, though, after the “monkey” comment, they’re essentially arguing the opposite. In the name of signaling to the Trumpers whose votes he’s already locked up, DeSantis supposedly consciously chose to make a nasty racist crack destined to guarantee him witheringly terrible media coverage on the very first day of the general election campaign. The moderates whose votes he needs will likely projectile-vomit over it. His opponent, Andrew Gillum, will no doubt leverage it as a PR windfall:

It’s so dubious that Fox News later distanced itself from DeSantis’s comment on air (not the first time recently that FNC has done that with a racially-charged figure of speech by a Republican):

It’s a total self-own in every way if it’s deliberate. Which means, to believe that it’s deliberate, you really have to believe that DeSantis is an imbecile who doesn’t understand where his own political self-interest lies. Having been blessed with a far-left opponent who may himself have difficulty appealing to centrists, he supposedly decided this morning to cede the middle by doing something gratuitously incendiary. Which would make him the dumbest Yale/Harvard Law grad to successfully win election to Congress and then outmaneuver a formidable opponent in a marquee gubernatorial primary in history.

What we have here, I think, is really a case of a narrative taking off because of its sheer irresistibility than one that makes sense on the political merits. Gillum is one step away from becoming the first black governor in Florida’s history, and he made it to that point by being a loud-and-proud Bernie-style progressive. His momentous upset in the primary last night was more significant than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset of Joe Crowley, coming as it did in not just a statewide race but one of the most politically influential states in the country. In the end Ocasio-Cortez’s win merely proves that the far left can win in deep blue House districts; a Gillum win this fall would prove that the far left can win even in the ultimate purple state, which would launch socialism to national respectability. For various reasons, in other words, progressives are very ramped up for a Gillum victory. And in DeSantis, a stark example of a Republican slobbering over Trump, they have a guy perfectly cast to be the villain in their narrative. A young, black socialist nominee versus Trump’s apprentice — and the latter says something about “monkeys” on day one of the campaign? There was no way they were letting this pass, no matter how incoherent the idea of a “dog-whistle strategy” is under the circumstances.