Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was forced to clarify controversial comments he made in an interview published Thursday that were blasted as “excusing racism” by pundits and internet users.
Speaking to the Daily Beast while discussing the unsuccessful midterm contests of Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia, both Black Democrats, Sanders described white people not voting for candidates of color on the basis of race as “not necessarily racist.”
“I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” he said. “I think next time around by the way it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Sanders is quoted praising Gillum as “a fantastic politician” who “ran a great campaign” and “had to take on some of the most blatant and ugly racism that we have seen in many many years.” However, it was the first quote that the Daily Beast tweeted out when boosting the interview, which prompted outrage online and in the media sphere.
Twitter users quickly pointed out that not voting for a candidate on the basis of their race is, in fact, the very definition of racist.
Oh, Bernie. pic.twitter.com/NOBF9pr1UZ— Ava DuVernay (@ava) November 8, 2018
Meanwhile, Sanders communications director Josh Miller-Lewis pushed back on the accusations, calling the article “click-bait” and tweeting an audio recording of the portion of the interview quoted.
What @BernieSanders actually said was DeSantis, Kemp and Trump ran explicitly racist campaigns.— Josh Miller-Lewis (@jmillerlewis) November 8, 2018
"Gillum ran a great campaign and he had to take on some of the most ugly and blatant racism that we have seen in many, many years." https://t.co/TkCCp8acPr
The senator’s supporters also demanded that the Daily Beast amend the story’s headline to include this.
In aiming to provide context and clarity, Sanders released a statement explaining that he was blaming Gillum’s Republican rival Ron DeSantis, Abrams’ rival Brian Kemp and President Donald Trump for pushing divisive racist campaigns.
Let me be absolutely clear: Donald Trump, Brian Kemp and Ron DeSantis ran racist campaigns. pic.twitter.com/QwZtCe4xh3— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 8, 2018
Some commentators appeared willing to take this explanation “in good faith” but emphasized that, whether racist or just misunderstood, the comment remains both bizarre and wrong.