MSNBC Pundit: ‘Absolutely Racist’ DeSantis Must Quit Florida Campaign

At the top of the 11:00 a.m. ET hour on Wednesday, MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi gave his left-wing guests free rein accuse Florida Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis of being “blatantly racist” due to a poor choice of words he used in a Fox News interview. One of the pundits, left-wing SiriusXM host Mark Thompson, a regular on the cable channel, even demanded that the GOP congressman immediately withdraw from the race.

“We begin with a shocking comment...made moments ago by Florida’s Republican nominee for governor Ron DeSantis in an already dramatic and highly consequential race,” Velshi breathlessly announced as show began, foregoing the usual intro to get straight to the breaking news.

 

 

A clip ran of DeSantis telling Fox News host Sandra Smith earlier that morning:

So we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had on Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That is not gonna work, that’s not gonna be good for Florida. So I’m going to fight for what I believe in because I think I’m the guy who can really lead Florida in a good direction.     

Velshi followed: “Did you hear that? Let’s be clear. That was a white Republican nominee for governor using the word ‘monkey’ when talking about his black opponent for office, ‘monkey it up.’ Let’s listen to that one more time.” Another soundbite ran of that single sentence from DeSantis.

After Velshi briefly read a statement from the Republican’s campaign that the comment “had nothing to do with race or anything like that” the anchor invited on Thompson and Michael Hopkins, a Communications Consultant for DeSantis’s opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum.

Predictably, both liberal guests tried to outdo each other in denouncing the GOP candidate. Hopkins declared:

And that wasn’t just a dog whistle, that was a bull horn. I mean, that was a blatantly racist comment....Because what he’s doing is not just denigrating the state, but denigrating the voters who, you know, are going out and trying to be good Americans and work hard and don’t want that kind of racist language used in campaigns across the state.

To his credit, Velshi at least made some attempt to be fair to DeSantis: “I want to give DeSantis the benefit of the doubt in thinking that he uses this term in non-racist ways otherwise and maybe didn’t think it through. Is there any possibility of that?” Thompson immediately dismissed the notion: “No, there’s no possibility of that whatsoever.”

In the exchange, Velshi even admitted that he was familiar with the expression:

VELSHI: But you’ve heard people use the term “monkey something up”?

THOMPSON: No.

VELSHI: You’ve not heard it ever?

THOMPSON: That’s not – no. Who says – I’ve never heard anybody say that.

VELSHI: I’ve heard people say it in non-racist terms, I’m just saying.

Thompson continued to reject any explanation other than labeling DeSantis a racist, going so far as to claim: “But look, it’s not a dog whistle. When you say 'monkey' in reference to an African-American, he might as well have just said the n-word.” The left-wing commentator then went further, demanding DeSantis quit the race: “Donald Trump needs to condemn this. DeSantis needs to immediately apologize and/or drop out of the race. I’ll be very, very clear about that. This is absolutely racist.”

Moments later, he repeated his call for the Republican to withdraw:

I’m not fooled by this at all. I know exactly what DeSantis meant and I know every African-American does in Florida. And I’m sure many white voters in Florida know that. And he ought to be condemned not only by the President, but he ought to apologize and maybe even step out of the race.

Rather than challenge any of Thompson’s assertions, Velshi simply put the same question to Hopkins: “Do you accept the fact that he may not have meant this in a racist way?” As one would imagine, the Gillum campaign staffer also refused to accept that explanation: “No, absolutely not. He knew where he was when he said it and he knew the audience he was talking to.”

Hopkins even remarked on how he and fellow Democrats predicted that race would become an issue in the campaign:

I was at the victory party last night for Sean Shaw, who is the first black attorney general nominee for the Democratic Party in Florida’s history. And one of the things that I heard people talk about is how quickly this race was gonna turn racial because of Donald Trump and because of his rhetoric. And it’s not even 12 hours after the race was called that now we’re hearing racist language being echoed by DeSantis. We’re seeing Trump attack Gillum on Twitter.

He ranted that DeSantis’s comment was “beneath the American spirit” and complained: “I’m sick and tired of people using racist language and then gas lighting us and telling us that it’s not racist. It’s racist and DeSantis needs to be held accountable for it.”

While Velshi initially seemed to be at least skeptical of the racist label being hurled at DeSantis, Thompson and Hopkins seemed to convince him otherwise. Turning to NBC News correspondent Ali Vitali in Florida, the host observed:

But the fact is Florida is a state that is a swing state and DeSantis’s best chance was going to be to appeal to a lot of moderates. If he is going to this place in which his appeal is going to be to people who may have racist tendencies, who may be fearful of a black candidate as governor, it does endanger DeSantis from getting those moderate candidates [sic] who don’t really want to be associated with a racist.

The reporter agreed: “I think that’s certainly true.”

At the top of the segment, Vitali blamed President Trump for the supposed racism:

But this does feel a little bit like what we’ve actually seen with the Trump campaign over and over again. And I say “campaign” in the broader sense that it’s usually when the President is out on the campaign trail. And in my experience, having covered him on the campaign, that there have been moments of dog whistles like this before and then the media does exactly what we’re doing right now. We break it down on the air, we try to explain to people what all the sides are saying, and then the candidate comes back and says, “Oh, well, the media is making all the hay about this.”

The DeSantis campaign seems to kind of be saying the same thing. I said, well, what do you think about people who will see this as a racial dog whistle? And they said, “Well, people are going to make hay of it regardless but that’s not what he was talking about.” So already on the first day of this race you’re seeing some of the tendencies that we’ve already seen coming out of Pennsylvania Avenue happening down here in Florida.

As the lengthy discussion came to a close, Vleshi turned back to Thompson and asked: “What do you think people who find this offensive should do?” Thompson eagerly replied: “They should vote for Andrew Gillum. They should mobilize, they should call out DeSantis wherever they are. If they’re at the water cooler at work, if they’re in the pew in church, they should decry this and say how despicable it is.”

After thoroughly condemning DeSantis as racist, Thompson laughably objected to anyone calling Gillum “far left,” claiming it was unfair to the Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat: “You know, and with all due respect, I would not say that Andrew Gillum is running so far to the left....how progressive or how left is it to want young African-American men, whom I’m sure DeSantis also would call monkeys, not to be killed under this Stand Your Ground legislation?”

Velshi rushed to reassure his guest:

I hear you, but I think that your criticism is that DeSantis and team and the President are calling him left and socialist, radically left and socialist. That’s not what we’re saying. We are saying this guy has what in America is described as progressive views. And as I’ve said many times, and I’m sure the blogs will enjoy me saying this, I’m from Canada, these things are not thought of as progressive views to want health care for everybody, things that Andrew Gillum wants. But I don’t think – I think we’re going to get old waiting for the Trump campaign to talk about this.

During a softball interview with Gillum that morning, the cast of Morning Joe made sure to avoid pressing the Democrat on any of his radical views or the fact that the Tallahassee mayor’s city government has been embroiled in a massive FBI corruption investigation.

Here are excerpts of the August 29 panel segment on MSNBC Live With Velshi & Ruhle:

11:00 AM ET

ALI VELSHI: We begin with a shocking comment that Hallie [Jackson] was just talking about made moments ago by Florida’s Republican nominee for governor Ron DeSantis in an already dramatic and highly consequential race. He’s set off to – to face off against Democratic nominee for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is the first African-American to ever claim that title in Florida. Here’s what DeSantis just said about Gillum on Fox News.

SANDRA SMITH: How do you plan to beat him?

REP. RON DESANTIS [R-FL]: Well, look, I mean this is a – Florida elections are always competitive. And you know, this is a guy who – although he’s much too liberal for Florida, I think he’s got huge problems with how he's governed Tallahassee – you know, he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views and he’s a charismatic candidate. And you know, I watched those Democrat debates and none of that was my cup of tea, but I mean he performed better than the other people there.     

So we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had on Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That is not gonna work, that’s not gonna be good for Florida. So I’m going to fight for what I believe in because I think I’m the guy who can really lead Florida in a good direction.

VELSHI: Did you hear that? Let’s be clear. That was a white Republican nominee for governor using the word “monkey” when talking about his black opponent for office, “monkey it up.” Let’s listen to that one more time.

DESANTIS: The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.

VELSHI: Okay, a spokesperson for DeSantis tells NBC News that DeSantis’s comment, quote, “had nothing to do with race or anything like that”and that it’s something DeSantis says frequently to express something that was messed up or not done right.

Let’s talk this through. Joining me now is NBC News Political Reporter Ali Vitali, who lives in Orlando. Also with us, Michael Hopkins, Communications Consultant for Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum, and SiriusXM host Mark Thompson. Welcome to all of you.

(...)

VELSHI: Has there been any reaction so far to DeSantis’s inelegant at best “monkey” comments?

ALI VITALI: Yeah, exactly. And the campaign – the DeSantis campaign did give me that response, this is something that he says, quote, “frequently” and that this had nothing to do with race. But the Democratic side is saying that – this is from the Florida Democratic Party Chairman Terrie Rizzo, who’s saying, “It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles.” Now, I asked one of the spokespeople on the Gillum campaign earlier, you know, what do you think that the DeSantis campaign is saying this? And really all they said is, “As we say in Tallahassee, bless his heart.” So I don’t think they’re really buying it.

But this does feel a little bit like what we’ve actually seen with the Trump campaign over and over again. And I say “campaign” in the broader sense that it’s usually when the President is out on the campaign trail. And in my experience, having covered him on the campaign, that there have been moments of dog whistles like this before and then the media does exactly what we’re doing right now. We break it down on the air, we try to explain to people what all the sides are saying, and then the candidate comes back and says, “Oh, well, the media is making all the hay about this.”

The DeSantis campaign seems to kind of be saying the same thing. I said, well, what do you think about people who will see this as a racial dog whistle? And they said, “Well, people are going to make hay of it regardless but that’s not what he was talking about.” So already on the first day of this race you’re seeing some of the tendencies that we’ve already seen coming out of Pennsylvania Avenue happening down here in Florida. And it’s just going to be another point added in the race as we kind of keep going forward seeing how these candidates start shaping the general election, Ali.

VELSHI: Alright, Michael, you work with Andrew Gillum. We spoke with Andrew Gillum several weeks ago. Have you spoken to him about these comments yet?

MICHAEL HOPKINS [ANDREW GILLUM’S COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT]: I haven’t. But what I can say is I’ve spoken with Florida Democrats all across the state. And that wasn’t just a dog whistle, that was a bull horn. I mean, that was a blatantly racist comment. And if DeSantis wants to say that he uses that kind of language all the time, then he should just stop talking. Because what he’s doing is not just denigrating the state, but denigrating the voters who, you know, are going out and trying to be good Americans and work hard and don’t want that kind of racist language used in campaigns across the state.

VELSHI: Alright, Mark, what did you hear when you heard those comments from DeSantis? And I want to be – I want to give DeSantis the benefit of the doubt in thinking that he uses this term in non-racist ways otherwise and maybe didn’t think it through. Is there any possibility of that?

MARK THOMPSON: No, there’s no possibility of that whatsoever.

VELSHI: But you’ve heard people use the term “monkey something up”?

THOMPSON: No.

VELSHI: You’ve not heard it ever?

THOMPSON: That’s not – no. Who says – I’ve never heard anybody say that.

VELSHI: I’ve heard people say it in non-racist terms, I’m just saying.

THOMPSON: That’s in – In the environment in which I live as an African-American, that’s not something that’s normally said. I don’t know – I don’t know anybody who says that frankly. Maybe that’s just I’m divorced from that.

But look, it’s not a dog whistle. When you say “monkey” in reference to an African-American, he might as well have just said the n-word. Donald Trump needs to condemn this. DeSantis needs to immediately apologize and/or drop out of the race. I’ll be very, very clear about that. This is absolutely racist. And if he gets away with it this time, he’s gonna continue to do it. They did it to do the Obamas, referring to them as primates, and now, he’s going to do it to Andrew Gillum.

(...)

THOMPSON: I’m not fooled by this at all. I know exactly what DeSantis meant and I know every African-American does in Florida. And I’m sure many white voters in Florida know that. And he ought to be condemned not only by the President, but he ought to apologize and maybe even step out of the race.

VELSHI: Michael, do you – you said that if that’s what he said, if he says it all the time, he should stop saying it. Do you accept the fact that he may not have meant this in a racist way?

HOPKINS: No, absolutely not. He knew where he was when he said it and he knew the audience he was talking to. And just to build upon the previous guest’s point, you know, I was at the victory party last night for Sean Shaw, who is the first black attorney general nominee for the Democratic Party in Florida’s history. And one of the things that I heard people talk about is how quickly this race was gonna turn racial because of Donald Trump and because of his rhetoric. And it’s not even 12 hours after the race was called that now we’re hearing racist language being echoed by DeSantis. We’re seeing Trump attack Gillum on Twitter.

You know, this is just beneath the American spirit. This is not what we’re about. And I’m sick and tired of it, honestly. I’m sick and tired of people using racist language and then gas lighting us and telling us that it’s not racist. It’s racist and DeSantis needs to be held accountable for it.

(...)

VELSHI: But the fact is Florida is a state that is a swing state and DeSantis’s best chance was going to be to appeal to a lot of moderates. If he is going to this place in which his appeal is going to be to people who may have racist tendencies, who may be fearful of a black candidate as governor, it does endanger DeSantis from getting those moderate candidates [sic] who don’t really want to be associated with a racist.

VITALI: I think that’s certainly true.

(...)

VELSHI: Alright, Michael, what do you think happens next? Because Mark’s talking about DeSantis getting out of the race or apologizing and Donald Trump commenting on it. I think I’ve got as good a chance of that as growing hair. What do you think is actually likely to happen?

HOPKINS: I think that there’s going to be silence on the side of Republicans and that’s gonna be an indictment. And we’re gonna have to wait and see what DeSantis does, what the President does, what the party does. This is just – I mean, it’s disgusting and somebody’s got to get held accountable for it. We cannot continue. Kids are watching. They’re taking their cues from our public leaders. And you know, what are we teaching? What are we teaching them about who we are, how we treat each other? Because this – this isn’t it.

VELSHI: And Mark, what do you think? I mean, I hear what you’re saying you think should happen, but given the likely environment, what do you think will happen? And what do you think people who find this offensive should do?

THOMPSON: They should vote for Andrew Gillum. They should mobilize, they should call out DeSantis wherever they are. If they’re at the water cooler at work, if they’re in the pew in church, they should decry this and say how despicable it is.

You know, and with all due respect, I would not say that Andrew Gillum is running so far to the left. His platform has been about education, it’s been about jobs –  

VELSHI: Yeah, I used the word “progressive,” and I think that’s fair, right?

THOMPSON: Yeah, well, he’s progressive. But how progressive or how left is it to want young African-American men, whom I’m sure DeSantis also would call monkeys, not to be killed under this Stand Your Ground legislation?

(...)

VELSHI: I hear you, but I think that your criticism is that DeSantis and team and the President are calling him left and socialist, radically left and socialist. That’s not what we’re saying. We are saying this guy has what in America is described as progressive views. And as I’ve said many times, and I’m sure the blogs will enjoy me saying this, I’m from Canada, these things are not thought of as progressive views to want health care for everybody, things that Andrew Gillum wants. But I don’t think – I think we’re going to get old waiting for the Trump campaign to talk about this.

THOMPSON: Well, I think it’s inevitable now he’s gonna lose. If he doesn’t apologize for this and he doubles down, if he repeats it, this might just help Andrew win. Because you know, I find it hard to believe that the majority of the voters in Florida in 2018, and there was great turnout, a million and a half Democrats and 1.6 million Republicans, that’s a lot of turnout. I find it hard to believe that the majority of those voters are going to abide DeSantis saying something like that and continuing to be a viable candidate.

(...)

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