Remember the hard-fought Florida gubernatorial debate of October 21, 2018? It was a fierce face-off between the former Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and then-Republican U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis. Both had their sights set on the top spot in the third-most-populous U.S. state.
Backed by the fiery endorsement of then-President Donald Trump, DeSantis muscled his way into the forefront of candidates, adopting Trump’s Make America Great Again brand of right-wing populism. Gillum, who beat out ex-Congresswoman Gwen Graham for his party’s nomination, brought his progressive agenda to the table. However, he couldn’t quite close the gap on DeSantis’ slight, yet persistent, lead in the polls. This led to DeSantis clinching a tight victory of 49.6 percent to 49.2 percent over Gillum in the November 6th election, a slim margin of just 0.4 percent, or 32,463 votes.
Upon taking the helm in January 2019, DeSantis – now in his second term – has continued to align himself more and more with the most radical elements of social conservatism. This trend was something Gillum had prophetically foreseen and cautioned Floridians against if DeSantis were to be elected.
Recently, political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen revived a potent moment from the Gillum-DeSantis clash on social media. In his post, Cohen emphasized how Gillum’s prediction of a DeSantis administration has tragically unfolded exactly as foreseen. “Gillum had DeSantis pegged for exactly who he is,” Cohen noted in his tweet.
During the debate, Gillum famously stated, “Well, let me first say, my grandmother used to say, a hit dog will holler, and it hollered through this room. Mr. DeSantis has spoken.”
He went on to paint a vivid picture of DeSantis’ affiliations, saying, “First of all, he’s got Neo-Nazis helping him out in this state. He has spoken at racist conferences. He’s accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n****r. When asked to return that money, he said no. He’s using that money to now fund negative ads.”
In a punchy closing statement, Gillum dropped a powerful bombshell, “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
In hindsight, Gillum’s stark warning in 2018 rings loud and clear today as we witness DeSantis’ administration’s actions. The worrying alignment between DeSantis’ governance and the interests of racist factions underscores the truth of Gillum’s prediction and the importance of holding our leaders accountable.