As Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida escalates a fight against his state’s largest private employer, his potential rivals for the White House see an opening to attack.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has continued to clash with Disney, the largest private employer in the state.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is taking heat from fellow Republicans over his feud with Disney, as his potential rivals for the White House see an opportunity to call him out as flouting traditional conservative values.
Former President Donald J. Trump this week slammed the governor’s efforts as a “political stunt” and said Mr. DeSantis was being outplayed by the company.
“DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Mr. Trump wrote on Tuesday on Truth Social, his media site, using a dismissive nickname for the governor. Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also took a shot, suggesting Mr. DeSantis’s talk of punishing a business defied principles about small government.
“I don’t think Ron DeSantis is conservative, based on actions towards Disney,” he said at an event on Tuesday hosted by the news outlet Semafor. “Where are we headed here now that, if you express disagreement in this country, the government is now going to punish you? To me, that’s what I always thought liberals did, and now all of a sudden here we are participating in this with a Republican governor.”
The criticism reflects a growing effort by Mr. Trump and other prospective candidates to try to undermine the core argument of Mr. DeSantis’s case for the nomination: that he is the Republican most likely to win a general election. Advisers to Mr. Trump and other possible rivals believe moves like going after Disney will be damaging in a general election, if not necessarily in the G.O.P. primary.
Understand the DeSantis-Disney Rift
- How the Feud Started: The rift between Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Disney began after he signed legislation that critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law in March 2022. Here’s some background.
- Stripping Disney’s Perks: After a yearlong battle, the governor gained control of the board that oversees development at Disney World, a move that restricts the company’s autonomy.
- Clashing Anew: After Disney quietly sidestepped state oversight of its theme parks, DeSantis announced new legislation that would override the company’s efforts to circumvent his authority.
Some Republican strategists even argued that the move risked turning off the party’s primary voters, saying they were confused by Mr. DeSantis’s decision to dig into a fight against a company with broad appeal and considerable resources to fight back.
The dispute between Mr. DeSantis and Disney — Florida’s largest private employer and corporate taxpayer — started when company officials criticized a bill that Mr. DeSantis signed into law this year. The law, which critics called a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, curtails instruction and discussion of gender and sexuality in some elementary school grades.
In response to the criticism, Mr. DeSantis moved to exert greater control over the company through a district board, but officials at the company quietly found a way to strip that board of power. Mr. DeSantis has since moved to try to take control again, and floated the possibilities of imposing new taxes on Disney — which would most likely be passed along to people using Disney’s park — as well as building a state prison nearby.
A spokesman for the governor said Mr. DeSantis believed Disney had “an unfair special advantage” over other businesses in the state.
“Good and limited government (and, indeed, principled conservatism) reduces special privilege, encourages an even playing field for businesses, and upholds the will of the people,” said Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary.
In his post, Mr. Trump suggested that the threats could backfire and that the company could respond by pulling out of Florida. “Watch!” he wrote. “That would be a killer. In the meantime, this is all so unnecessary, a political STUNT!”
The former president himself has never shied away from attacking companies he doesn’t like.
Despite a steady stream of criticism from fellow Republicans — former Vice President Mike Pence, who is considering a campaign of his own, chided Mr. DeSantis on the issue in February — it’s not clear that Mr. DeSantis’s actions have hurt him uniformly on the right.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board, on Tuesday evening, criticized the governor for the arc of the feud with Disney but took greater issue with Mr. Trump for his attack.
“You’d think the former president would be critical of Disney’s woke turn, but his only abiding political conviction is personal advantage,” the board wrote.