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Sabatini derides Webster as mentally unfit using slur for intellectually disabled

May 26, 2024 at 2:34:00 AM

Andrea Charur


Anthony Sabatini called Congressman Daniel Webster "borderline retarded" last month during a right-wing podcast on X. The word is considered a slur by advocates for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Asked if he stood by his comments, Sabatini said, "Absolutely."

Still from campaign video

Far-right Republican Anthony Sabatini, chair of the Lake County GOP who's currently running for U.S. Congress in District 11, had a few things to say about incumbent Congressman Daniel Webster, when he joined podcaster and conservative commentator Tim Sharp last month on his show Real Tim Sharp on X, formerly Twitter. 

“I'm running against a guy who is just complete trash, absolutely horrible, career politician, 44 years, hasn't done anything in 44 years, completely senile, borderline retarded, dead-center of the road politically, complete moderate, won't join the Freedom Caucus, super neocon, and more importantly, catatonic,” Sabatini, 35, said during a wide-ranging April 19 interview with Sharp. 

Sharp, who mounted a campaign for District 19 state representative in 2022 but was disqualified during the primary, is probably best known for his commentary on the conservative media site AMP America.

Also present on the nearly two-hour podcast where Sabatini discussed his platform, including immigration and school choice policies, were Osceola County School Board Member Jon Arguello and Ehsan Joarder, a candidate for Congress in District 14. About 540 listeners tuned into the show. Sabatini joined 35 minutes into the podcast, introduced himself and then began attacking Webster.  At one point, another guest suggested they "not say retarded," and substituted "silly." Other guests continued using the R-word. A few minutes later Sabatini said, "Thank you for that very, very important commentary on that silly, retarded question." Then he laughed.

This isn't the first time Sabatini's denigrated Webster. On Facebook, Sabatini has called the Congressman "Dan Brain Dead Webster" and “Do Nothing Dan Webster” — a reference to Webster’s missing 434 of 8,173 roll call votes according to It seems to be standard practice for a Sabatini campaign. In 2022, when Sabatini ran for Congress in District 7, he routinely trash-talked his opponent Cory Mills; Mills won.  

Sabatini “appears to be channeling Trump’s rhetorical style,” Michael McDonaldson, PhD, professor of political science at the University of Florida, said in an email to VoxPopuli. 

McDonaldson said that strategy could work in his favor in a Republican primary, but that “over-the-top character attacks” can also backfire. He said he would advise Sabatini to “cut out the off-the-cuff language that diminishes his arguments.” 

During primaries, candidates go for personal attacks, particularly against incumbents, because everyone is from the same party and likely support similar policies, according to Aubrey Jewett, PhD, associate professor of government and politics at University of Central Florida

“For challengers, they often feel like they have to do something to shake up the ranks,” Jewett said in a phone interview. “They have to make the case to voters that there needs to be a change. One of the ways they do that is to go on the attack.”

Asked  if he stood by his statements in the Tim Sharp interview, Sabatini texted VoxPopuli and said,  “Absolutely.” 

Then he doubled down, adding that it’s an “open secret” that Webster “has literally no idea what’s going on.” 

A member of Webster’s campaign staff told VoxPopuli that they did not want to comment on Sabatini’s interview but said Webster does not believe in negative campaigning. 

One group that may be angered by Sabatini’s remarks is the community that supports those with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Advocates have lobbied since 2010 for the “R-word” to be recognized as a slur against the IDD community in the same way that other derogatory, dehumanizing words are used against religious, racial and ethnic minorities. 

“Language is powerful especially when misused, deliberately causing pain and confusion to undervalued members of society like the 61 million Americans with disabilities," a spokesperson from the National Organization on Disability (NOD) said in a statement sent to VoxPopuli. "Language shapes perception, bias and perpetuates stereotypes targeting undervalued members of society in shameful and belittling ways.

"While mental retardation was originally introduced as a medical term in 1961 for people with intellectual disabilities, in the decades since, the R-word has become an insult used all too commonly in everyday language," NOD continued. "In 2010, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which changed mental retardation to intellectual disability in US federal law. Today, whether intended or not, using the R-word is the same as using any slur against a minority group. Eliminating this word is a step toward respect for all."

"Any use of the word retarded is hurtful and uncalled for because it is an obsolete word that shames and insults people with intellectual disabilities just for existing," Jean Ryan, president of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, told VoxPopuli in an email. "There is variability of talents, skills and abilities in all of the human race."

“It is mind-boggling that anyone in a leadership role — let alone anyone period — would perpetuate a slur that disparages people with intellectual disability,” Ellen Seidman, a magazine editor and writer who created a viral video about the word’s stigma told VoxPopuli in a Facebook message. “I am the mother of a young man with ID, and he and his peers do not deserve to be synonymous with an insult. So many people are aware of this. Politicians should know better.” 

Sabatini, who represented House District 32 from 2020 to 2022, will square off against Webster, who’s been in office since 2011, and geophysicist John McCloy in the Republican primary August 20. The winner meets Democrat Barbie Harden Hall in the general election on Nov. 5. "

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