I continue not to grasp an alleged strategy that calls for broadcasting your “political incorrectness” in the most obnoxious way to appeal to voters who are already in your pocket, and who will inevitably grow more enthusiastic about your candidacy as they’re reminded regularly that the Democrat on the ballot is a loud-and-proud Bernie-style hard leftist.
Who, by the way, may or may not be under FBI investigation. Did I forget to mention that in this afternoon’s post? The FBI has been sniffing around City Hall in Tallahassee, where Andrew Gillum is mayor, for years. Gillum himself ended up scheduled for a meeting in Costa Rica in 2016 with someone who was, unbeknownst to him, an undercover FBI agent. Will that lead to a subpoena? An indictment? No way, says Gillum, claiming he has nothing to hide. (Shep Smith asks him about the investigation around halfway through the clip below.) No one knows for sure. But if you’re his Republican opponent, it would be exceedingly stupid to divert attention from the legal cloud hanging over Gillum’s head with a gratuitous racial crack that’ll almost certainly cost you more votes than it’ll earn.
Let’s rephrase the question this way: Who are the voters who prefer DeSantis to Gillum purely because the former is white and the latter black but who also needed some sort of racial jab by DeSantis to bring them all the way over onto his side? Who’s the person, in other words, who’s watching interviews with Gillum and thinking, “He’s black, and I don’t like that, and he’s also ultra-left-wing, which I really don’t like — but can I really pull the lever for DeSantis in good conscience if he doesn’t call Gillum a monkey”?
Also, what happens to that hypothetical voter when DeSantis inevitably spends the rest of the week denying that he meant anything untoward? If the idea is to impress righties by showing how politically incorrect you are, turning around and pleading endlessly to the frowning media that you’ve been misunderstood and would never say such a thing seems counterproductive.
The most plausible argument I’ve seen for the theory that DeSantis did it deliberately and strategically, not innocently, came from Josh Barro, who wondered if DeSantis wasn’t trying to signal to righties so much as to lefties. That is, maybe DeSantis slipped in a “monkey” figure of speech knowing full well that the left would overreact and that that would annoy righties, who are tired of being lectured about phantom racism and “dog whistles.” (Of course, if Barro’s right, DeSantis would be dog-whistling — to the left, not the right.) The idea is that the right-wing backlash to the left-wing backlash over the “monkey” comment would drive some center-righties into DeSantis’s camp who might otherwise be leery of him because of his Trumpiness. That makes … more sense, I suppose, than the idea that DeSantis thought it’d be smart to try to pander to reactionaries by racializing the gubernatorial race on day one, but it seems too clever by half and too risky for the benefits it might produce. What would Occam’s Razor say: DeSantis used an unfortunate turn of phrase innocently or DeSantis is executing a bank-shot tribalist strategy premised on having the national media call him a racist for the next 36 hours?
I linked this old CNN story in the previous post about Palin and McCain but it’s worth re-reading here too as Obama gears up to eulogize Maverick and the media remembers him as the good Republican who stood up for decency against racism at his rallies. Despite his years in the Senate as one of its most ostentatiously bipartisan members and his obvious contempt for the reactionary right, St. John wasn’t above being attacked as a dog-whistling racist either when it suited Democrats’ electoral purposes. Which, ultimately, is why it’s pointless to debate “dog whistle” accusations. Whether you’re credulous or not about the charge depends heavily on whether the Republican in question is someone to whom it’s safe to give the benefit of the doubt. McCain 2018 would have been allowed to slide on a “monkey this up” comment about a black politician. McCain 2008? Forget it.