Here's what 'dog whistle' means in political terms

Ron DeSantis accused of using 'dog whistle' when referencing opponent


ORLANDO, Fla. – One day after the Florida primary, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis came under fire for a comment he made on Fox News about his opponent, Andrew Gillum. 

“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda,” DeSantis said on the air.

DeSantis claims the remark was a dig at his opponent's politics, but many have said it was “dog whistle.” 

The phrase “dog whistle” has become a big part of the political conversation in the governor's race since DeSantis' remark.

[RELATED: Ron DeSantis: Florida shouldn’t ‘monkey this up’ by voting for Gillum | @MeNextTime: Andrew Gillum responds to President Trump's Twitter dig]

So what exactly is dog whistle?

The dictionary definition is “an expression or statement that has secondary meaning intended to be understood only by a particular group of people.”

Those calling DeSantis' comment a “dog whistle” believe “monkey this up” was a nod to any potential racists within the Republican base.

Officials with DeSantis' campaign have denied any racial undertones to the candidate's remark.

"Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses," Stephen Lawson, DeSantis' communications director, told CBS News. "To characterize it as anything else is absurd."  

DeSantis later defended his remarks in an interview on Fox News.

"It has zero to do with race ... It has everything to do with whether we want Florida to continue to go in a good direction, building off the success, or do we want to turn to left-wing, socialist policies, which will absolutely devastate our state," DeSantis said.

The Republican candidate said he believes people should be judged on their abilities and character, regardless of race.

Gillum is the first African-American nominee for Governor in Florida's history. In an article this week, the New York Times explained that “monkey” has long been used as a slur against African-Americans, which is why so many critics point to the comment as a message to racists. 

Terrie Rizzo, the head of the Florida Democratic Party, tweeted about DeSantis' comments Wednesday.

“It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles," Rizzo said.

President Donald Trump, DeSantis' most prominent supporter, has also been accused of using “dog whistles” to speak to white-supremacist supporters. Gillum, also during a Fox News interview, said the comment came “directly from the campaign manual” of President Trump.

"In the handbook of Donald Trump, they no longer do whistle-calls. They're now using full bullhorns," Gillum said. 

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