Home » Republican candidates struggle to respond to racist shooting in Jacksonville

Republican candidates struggle to respond to racist shooting in Jacksonville

Three people were shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend in a racist attack. It’s a horrific loss of life and just the latest in a series of racist mass killings that has included Charleston, South Carolina; Buffalo, New York; El Paso, Texas; and more. Republican responses remain as weak as ever, on both the guns part of racist mass shootings and the racism part of racist mass shootings, but there were extra-special moments from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

DeSantis was booed by some in the crowd at a vigil for the victims. This follows years of him attacking any recognition of racism in this country and his restrictions on teaching about it. DeSantis, who has also weakened Florida’s gun laws, played the tough guy in his comments on the shooting, describing it as the work of a “major league scumbag.”

“What he did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race.” However, he does not seem to have addressed whether Florida teachers could discuss this killing honestly with their students without being vulnerable under DeSantis-signed state laws.

The Jacksonville killing came at an awkward time for Ramaswamy. Just the day before, on Friday, he had implied that white supremacists don’t exist.

“I’m sure the boogeyman white supremacist exists somewhere in America. I’ve just never met him. Never seen one, never met one in my life, right?” Ramaswamy said at a county-level Republican Party event in Iowa. “Maybe I’ll meet a unicorn sooner. And maybe those exist, too.”

That was Friday. On Saturday, the Jacksonville gunman left a suicide note and a racist document at home and went to a historically Black university, which he left after being confronted by a security guard. The gunman then went to a Dollar General in a predominantly Black neighborhood and killed three people—Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19; Jerrald Gallion, 29; and Angela Michelle Carr, 52—with a gun adorned by swastikas.

On Sunday, CNN’s Dana Bash challenged Ramaswamy about his comments, putting them in the context of the killings. “I’m sure they’re grieving for their loss,” Ramaswamy responded. “And I don’t want to politicize those victims, Dana. This is a very sensitive situation, where we should have nothing but foremost respect for those victims and not bring them into partisan politics.” He then explained that he’d been talking about how he personally had faced more racism from the left than the right, offering the example of being called “Ramasmarmy,” which he said was “effectively reducing me to the color of my skin and my attributes.” (Bro, no, it was making a play on words with your name, along the lines of “DeSanctimonious.” A racist approach to a name would be more like how Republicans frequently and often deliberately mispronounce Vice President Kamala Harris’ first name.)

When Bash pushed him on the existence of white supremacy, Ramaswamy again tried to downplay the influence of racism in this racist killing. “I acknowledge that all forms of racial animus exist in the United States, including fringe branches. I mean, that’s clearly what was at the head of this mentally deranged individual responsible for this shooting,” he said. “But I think there are many forms of mental derangement that cause us to see one another on the basis of our skin color and our attributes.”

Ramaswamy’s answer to solve our current situation? “Colorblind meritocracy,” he told Bash. And aside from the fact that that doesn’t exist, it wouldn’t be an answer for people being shot while they’re at work or trying to shop at Dollar General. But we don’t expect serious answers from this glib, ignorant huckster.

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Then again, the more experienced Republican presidential candidates didn’t have much more to offer. They just knew a little better what to stay away from, and hadn’t suggested white supremacists are as rare as unicorns just a day earlier.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, appearing on “Face the Nation” on CBS, said, “I condemn what occurred in Jacksonville in the strongest possible terms. That wasn’t a criminal act. That was an act of evil.” His solution? Prayer, armed guards in schools, and “an expedited federal death penalty for anyone engaged in a mass shooting like took place in Jacksonville or — or, frankly, like the shootings that took place at — at a baseball park and at a football game.” This, Pence said, would “send a message to anyone that has evil in their hearts that there is no chance for them to spend the rest of their life behind bars, that they’re going to meet their fate in months, not years.”

Since the Jacksonville shooter died by suicide before police reached him—not uncommon in mass shootings—this might be less of a deterrent than Pence is claiming.

Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate as well as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, tweeted, “Devastated by the news out of Jacksonville, FL. There is nothing more hateful than murdering someone because of the color of their skin; violence of any kind has no place in our country. 1 Corinthians 13:7 teaches love endures all things. That is my prayer today for our nation.” So, basically, thoughts and prayers—although Scott’s opening word, “devastated,” does suggest real personal feeling rather than the generic Republican response we’ve all become so familiar with.

Guns and racism are the problems here. The basic Republican response is calling for more guns and denying that racism is a serious force in this country—exactly the opposite of a real solution.

We talk about the upcoming Republican presidential debate and how sad a situation it is. The Republican Party shot itself in the foot with a Trump-sized bullet and now it’s stuck with him for the foreseeable future. We still try to game out the possible paths the Republican field might take in order to rid themselves of the Donald.


August 2023