The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 28 : 28

FRONT PAGE

26 “I have to say, I haven’t had these problems with the Republican­s,” I told one campaign manager. “Well, they’re a lot more organised than us” was the on-therecord reply. Events had played their part to stymie the organising. Security had increased after mail bombs were sent to CNN and other declared enemies of the president. A Democratic event featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had been harassed by an alt-right street gang. (The organiser of the protest turned out to be the head of the Miami-Dade Republican­s, Nelson Diaz.) But it was not just lockdown that made it hard to find out what was going on. I tried to speak with a key press officer and had to go through 22 different people, almost none of whom had heard of him. Nelson and Gillum were both frontrunne­rs on the morning of election day, and both losers by the end of it. Unusually low turnout in Miami-Dade County was blamed. I did finally see Gillum speak, in a gubernator­ial debate with Ron DeSantis. Sitting outside the venue at Broward College was a middle-aged man in a lawn chair, Most times after a debate, campaign surrogates come out and talk with the media. Here, instead, the Republican Florida congressma­n Matt Gaetz (himself something of a Florida Man and perhaps the most obnoxious politician in America) starting shouting at a Democratic surrogate, creating a kind of undercard fight to the debate’s main event. It was so rude, and he was braying so loud and close to their faces, that reporters, not knowing what else to do, started to laugh. In October, Gaetz had posted a video “proving” that the people in the caravan had been paid by the billionair­e George Soros. “Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigat­e the source!” he wrote, in the choppy syntax of direct-mail scams. Of course, the video was retweeted by the president. The footage was really from Guatemala, and appeared to show local retailers giving the caravan money in support. Elsewhere, in Miami, these “racially charged” conspiracy theories were Sanity remained until we hit the caravan. “These are human beings,” Salazar said, but the audience weren’t so sure they agreed. with a homemade sign reading “Gays for Trump”. At best he was a gay for Trump, and was later misidentif­ied by bumbling online sleuths as the Florida man who had sent those mail bombs. The real suspect was Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr, a type specimen of “Florida Man” – the distinct species whose natural habitat is outlandish headlines. (Election day offered “Florida Man Wearing Crocs Gets Bitten After Jumping into Crocodile Exhibit at Alligator Farm”.) Gillum was the candidate for Floridians, Ron DeSantis the man for Florida Man. “Racially charged” was the electoral euphemism du jour, and this was one of the most racially charged contests in the land. wrote about “racial flare-ups” in Florida, like the state had a rash instead of a racism problem. DeSantis had spoken at events where white supremacis­ts were present. White supremacis­ts made robocalls full of racial slurs targeting Gillum. You could tell it was a grudge match. “I’m not calling Mr DeSantis a racist,” Gillum said, “I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist,” and DeSantis started as if struck. Apart from the monkey comment, they clashed over the “caravan”, the group of Guatemalan­s, Salvadoran­s and Hondurans making their way through Central America. They were hoping to seek asylum in the United States, and President Trump had ordered thousands of troops to the border to stop them. DeSantis thought the caravan could be an orchestrat­ed invasion designed to smuggle Chinese-made fentanyl over the border. This theory, by conservati­ve standards, was a model of probity. causing headaches for moderate Republican candidates. In Florida’s 26th and 27th congressio­nal districts, they were trying to hang on to Spanish-speaking seats. had a gold chain and a bald head, round and shiny as a melon, and in spite of his age and appearance was trying to transmit menace. “It’s RSVP-only tonight,” he said, and couldn’t hide his disappoint­ment when I was on the list. Upstairs, in the kind of restaurant where frozen margaritas swirl in an icee machine, the Federated Republican Women of North Dade were hosting an evening with Maria Elvira Salazar, the Republican candidate for Florida 27. Florida 27 was unusual. Its congresspe­rson, the moderate Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, had resigned, leaving it open. Trump had lost it by 20 points in 2016. Ros-Lehtinen didn’t like her chances, and she didn’t like Trump. (She once described the president as having a “warped mind”.) But Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV journalist, was gaining against her opponent, a Democrat called Donna Shalala. (It was Shalala, alongside Pelosi, who had been yelled at by the alt-right.) At the front of the room was a banner-sized logo; it was supposed to be a crimson map of Florida emblazoned over a high heel, but instead looked like a communist flag crammed into a shoe. That was ominous. The audience – chaining Virginia Slims, piling buffet plates with free seafood until their hands trembled, one sitting in a walker like it was a throne – was replete with Cuban Americans. The little man on the door The New York Times the monthly — essay

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