During an appearance on Fox News with Sandra Smith, DeSantis, who is white, doled out backhanded compliments to Gillum, who is black, calling him “an articulate spokesman.” He said Gillum performed better than other candidates, just before arguing that Florida shouldn’t elect him.
“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,” said DeSantis to Smith.
Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, is backed by Bernie Sanders and is campaigning on progressive policies. President Donald Trump has expressed his support for DeSantis.
When asked for comment, Gillum’s campaign referred HuffPost to Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.
“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Rizzo said in a statement sent to HuffPost after the interview.
Stephen Lawson, communications director for DeSantis’ campaign said the comments were about Florida’s economy.
“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” Lawson said. “Florida’s economy has been on the move for the last eight years and the last thing we need is a far-left democrat trying to stop our success.”
Fox News aired a follow-up segment after the debacle, calling the comment “inappropriate” and indicating that DeSantis has since “clarified” his statement.
“We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement,” said Smith in the segment.
Still, DeSantis’ remarks about “monkeying this up” sent Twitter into mass outrage:
Later on Wednesday, Gillum responded personally to DeSantis’ remarks, saying that “it’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump.”
“I think he’s got another thing coming to him if he thinks that in today’s day and age Florida voters are going to respond to that level of derision and division ― they’re sick of it. What we’re trying to offer in this race is a North Star for where we want to go as a state,” he said.
As for whether Gillum believes DeSantis’ comments were racist, he said that “in the handbook of Donald Trump they no longer do whistle calls ― they’re now using full bullhorns.”
This story has been updated to include comments from DeSantis, Fox News and Gillum.