Florida's DeSantis faces difficult new questions about his views on race

Ron DeSantis
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis answers questions from reporters after a Florida Republican gubernatorial primary debate at the Republican Sunshine Summit Thursday,...

In the months following the 2012 election cycle, many Republican leaders said they wanted to "broaden the GOP's appeal with voters" and "reach out to new voters, specifically Asian Americans, blacks, Hispanics and young people." It was against this backdrop that the Republican National Committee hosted a spring meeting in Los Angeles in early 2013 featuring a rather motley crew who were invited to give the party guidance.

Near the top of the list was a prominent right-wing provocateur named David Horowitz. As we discussed at the time, this was a difficult RNC choice to defend: Horowitz is one of the nation’s most abrasive anti-Muslim activists, a notorious conspiracy theorist who’s dabbled in some ugly racial politics, and someone who believes political correctness will lead to a “totalitarian future.” He’s also written books with titles like “Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes” and “The Race Card: White Guilt, Black Resentment, and the Assault on Truth and Justice.”

It was around this same time that a young Republican congressman from Florida expressed his admiration for Horowitz and his work. The congressman's name was Ron DeSantis.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a gubernatorial nominee who recently was accused of using racially tinged language, spoke four times at conferences organized by a conservative activist who has said that African Americans owe their freedom to white people and that the country's "only serious race war" is against whites.DeSantis, elected to represent north-central Florida in 2012, appeared at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conferences in Palm Beach, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, said Michael Finch, president of the organization. At the group's annual Restoration Weekend conferences, hundreds of people gather to hear right-wing provocateurs such as Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Sebastian Gorka sound off on multiculturalism, radical Islam, free speech on college campuses and other issues.

As the Washington Post's report on this makes clear, DeSantis didn't just share his societal views during his appearances; he also expressed his personal support for Horowitz.

The Post  pointed specifically to a 2015 event in which DeSantis -- a very close Donald Trump ally, described by NBC News as the president's "mini-me" -- told an audience in Charleston, "David has done such great work and I've been an admirer. I've been to these conferences in the past but I've been a big admirer of an organization that shoots straight, tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing."

Two weeks ago, the day after DeSantis won Florida's GOP primary, and he learned that he'd take on Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the state's first African-American gubernatorial nominee, the congressman went on Fox News to argue that his state should not "monkey this up" by electing his rival.

For many, the racial subtext seemed obvious, though DeSantis denied having a racial motivation.

And while no one can know for sure what's in the far-right candidate's heart, there is a context to consider -- a context that includes associations with and praise for the author of "Killing Whitey," who believes the country's "only serious race war" is against white people.