Ron DeSantis thinks his feud with Disney will pay off. Therefore (2023)

  • published

Ron DeSantis thinks his feud with Disney will pay off. Therefore (1)image source,Getty Images

North American reporter

Ron DeSantis refuses to back down in his fight with Disney over how sex and gender identity are taught in schools. Governors take a big stake in what Republican voters — and ultimately the American public — want their next president to deliver.

From the front seat of a car driving in the middle of Lake Buena Vista, Steve Schussler surveys his Disney Springs empire.

While discussions about the political tactics and wisdom behind Mr. DeSantis' battle with Walt Disney Co. touches on a larger theoretical debate about the direction of the Republican Party, for a businessman like Mr. Schussler, this disorientation has And very real consequences.

On the left is the Rainforest Café, a chain of jungle-themed restaurants he founded in 1994 and sold in 2000. His prehistoric-themed T-Rex Café is in the distance, and once an hour an animatronic dinosaur appears inside, roaring and screaming above the original noise.

All parts of Disney Springs are owned by the Walt Disney Company, and Mr. DeSantis' efforts to wrest Disney custody of the land -- along with hints of new regulations, taxes, toll roads and even the construction of a nearby prison -- prompted Mr. Schuss, Mr. Le, to speak out against what he said was the governor's fierce anti- business tactics.

"As business owners, we are disgusted and betrayed by the governor's proposed tax and rhetoric," he said, adding that his only political goal was "peace, tranquility, harmony, free from attack."

Mr. Schussler is the kind of businessman who could have been born a Republican — an advocate of small, less intrusive government, fair taxes and limited regulation. He once donated to a Republican senator's campaign and quoted Donald Trump on the back of his autobiography.

"How is not being overtaxed a liberal agenda?" he asked. "You don't want to be threatened for building a prison near your land? What is the agenda for not wanting your employees and guests to pay special fees?"

DeSantis' feud with Disney, however, is about how cultural issues trump commercial ones. It started when the company came under pressure from employees to criticize a Florida law that prohibits elementary school teachers from discussing gender and gender identity in the classroom — what critics call a "don't say gay" law.

In the latest upgrade, Disney -- which employs 80,000 in Florida, described as a kingdom within a state -- canceled plans to build a new campus in central Florida that would have drawn 2,000 workers from California to work in digital technology.

As Florida's governor prepares to announce a bid for the 2024 Republican nomination, it's a conflict of his choice.

"Do they have a First Amendment right to promote gender ideology in kindergarten? Yes, I think so," said Mr. DeSantis on Disney. "But as governor, what I can tell you is that under no circumstances should Florida subsidize Wake Up Activism by allowing them to have their own government."

And according to Erin Huntley, chairwoman of the Republican Executive Committee of Orange County, Florida, which includes Orlando and Walt Disney World, it's a fight he can't — and shouldn't — back down.

She characterized the debate as one about parental rights and education, with Mr. DeSantis on one side and Disney on the other.

"The bottom line is that people want their children to be educated in school," she said. "Schools are for reading, writing, history and science. If the governor hadn't insisted on that, I don't think he would have had as much success in his re-election campaign."

To say that Mr. DeSantis has had a successful re-election campaign would be an understatement. In a state that measures margins of victory in the low single digits, Florida's governor won by a 19-point landslide last November.

The victory places Mr. DeSantis in the upper ranks of potential Republican presidential candidates and pits him against Donald Trump. To defeat the former president, however, he will have to convince Republican voters that he is a better choice than the man who has won the party's presidential nomination twice before.

To do so, Mr. DeSantis is betting that he is best positioned to campaign for a changing Republican Party -- one with more populist sentiments that increasingly includes elite institutions, including large multinationals like Disney. Very skeptical.

Research by the Foundation for Democracy's voter research group after the 2016 presidential election found that cultural, not economic, issues were the main dividing line between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton voters.

"The glue that has traditionally held the Republican Party together is the free market and the conservative side of the economy," said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. "There now appears to be a significant number of Republicans who no longer support it."

If so, the tactics behind Mr. DeSantis' battle with Disney in focus. He reckons Republicans have changed their minds about business and the economy, and his policies toward Disney and other "woke" companies reflect that.

Republicans appear to be broadly supportive of Mr. DeSantis' efforts. An Ipsos poll of American public opinion in April found that 64 percent of Republicans believed that Mr. DeSantis "deservedly removed the special treatment of Disney," while 36 percent said it punishes Disney for exercising the right to free speech .

Among the wider public, however, the verdict was less rosy. Eighty-two percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans oppose political candidates who support laws that penalize businesses for political or cultural attitudes.

Randy Ross, a gay Republican who chaired Donald Trump's Orange County campaign in 2016 and still supports the former president, believes Mr. DeSantis' feud with Disney shows he is making a mistake. Seriously wrong because he leans too far to the right on social media issues.

"What you're really doing is making Florida the biblical image that you think the real people want," he said. "Ron DeSantis has made enemies among independents and moderate Republicans."

He said his reluctance to resolve the issue quietly behind closed doors reflected the governor's poor political judgment. Instead, DeSantis has been cheered by some conservatives, even as he has alienated voters like businessmen and political centrists like Schussler.

"I know Disney isn't perfect and they might have to get involved here and there," he said. "But this public battle to put a piece of Florida's soul on trial is a big mistake."

Celebration Township, Florida is located within the boundaries of Disney-owned land south of Orlando. It is full of idyllic homes with wide verandas and tree-lined streets. The quaint central business district seems to conjure up a simple American life with ice cream socials, potluck dinners, Halloween costume parades and summer concerts.

image source,Getty Images

Of course, this is all by design. Disney design. The town was built by the company in the mid-1990s as a community planning exercise – inspired by Walt Disney's vision to recreate suburban life.

But running a theme park and running a small town—with its services, schools, and everyday challenges—are very different things, and Disney eventually turned over the management of Celebration to a limited company. There are lawsuits and vitriol. While Disney is officially out of the picture, Disney is keeping a close eye on the city and its reputation.

Cookie Kelly lives in Celebration and works as a real estate agent. Like many Orlando-area residents, she was a former Disney employee who played costumed theme park characters — "in fur," as she puts it. She has seen Disney struggle up close, and while she still loves the magic of Disney, she also has a healthy respect for the power of the company.

"They're not taking anybody prisoner," she said.

When it comes to politics, Celebration is just as divided as the rest of the country. In 2020, 49.9% of residents voted for Joe Biden, while 49.4% supported Trump.

According to Ms. Kelly, Disney's current feud with Mr. DeSantis is a constant topic of conversation around town, and opinions on the subject are decidedly mixed. Among her friends, however, the consensus is that Mr. DeSantis is "crazy" for choosing to fight the company that transformed Central Florida from an undeveloped swamp into an economic colossus.

"A lot of people are talking about it," Kelly said of the feud. "Some people think he's just crazy. But there are others who are very supportive of his policies and are convinced that every child under the fourth grade is getting ready for something terrible."

DeSantis expects the latter voters to decide the Republican nomination for president. By then, he must hope it is not too late to change the minds of some of the first group, as he needs their support to win the presidency itself.

Learn more

You can hear more of Anthony's analysis by listening to the BBC's American politics and culture podcast Americaast,vote on the bbcor where you get your podcast

related topics

  • republican party
  • disney
  • Florida
  • 2024 US election
  • OS.
  • orlando

more about this story

  • Why the 'happiest place' is suing Florida's governor

    • published

      26. april

  • Disney ends $867 million Florida plan amid DeSantis feud

    • published

      18. maj

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Last Updated: 04/08/2023

Views: 6284

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Birthday: 1999-09-15

Address: 8416 Beatty Center, Derekfort, VA 72092-0500

Phone: +6838967160603

Job: Mining Executive

Hobby: Woodworking, Knitting, Fishing, Coffee roasting, Kayaking, Horseback riding, Kite flying

Introduction: My name is Msgr. Refugio Daniel, I am a fine, precious, encouraging, calm, glamorous, vivacious, friendly person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.