On Wednesday, Disney filed a federal lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, accusing him of illegally using the state government to punish the company for exercising its free-speech rights. This latest development in the ongoing clash between DeSantis and Disney has brought fresh concerns for the governor and his nascent 2024 presidential campaign.
The battle between DeSantis and Disney was sparked last year by the “don’t say gay” bill, a Florida law that banned classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for young students. Disney criticized the law, leading to the state’s attempt to strip the theme park of its independent governing powers. DeSantis has frequently boasted to conservative audiences nationwide, adopting the pose of a swaggering gunfighter out of the Wild West, and declaring, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” However, his stance on Disney has left some deep-pocketed Republican donors befuddled.
Trump has capitalized on the Disney drama, suggesting that Disney could damage Florida’s economy by reducing its footprint there. While DeSantis has tried to portray himself as a trustworthy, pro-growth steward of Florida’s economy, his stance on Disney has prompted fresh questions about whether he can muster enough widespread support across the party to defeat former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican primary.
In a national Reuters/Ipsos poll taken this week, 44% of Republicans said they had a more favorable view of DeSantis because of the fight with Disney. But 73% said they were less likely to support a political candidate who backs laws designed to punish a company for its political or cultural stances. Some Republican leaders, including former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have criticized DeSantis’ approach, saying their party typically favors pro-business policies.
DeSantis defended his actions in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, saying, “It’s not conservative to simply defer to every corporation in America. That’s being a corporatist.” However, some observers believe that DeSantis has taken the conflict too far and could pay a political price, with one retired Republican lobbyist in Florida calling DeSantis “petty, vindictive, and foolish.”
The Disney lawsuit has brought renewed attention to DeSantis’ clash with the company over the “don’t say gay” bill, and it remains to be seen how this will impact his presidential bid.