Former President Donald Trump launched a new attack against Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, saying the Florida governor botched his battle with Disney for control of the iconic theme park’s jurisdiction.
DeSantis is currently threatening retaliation after Disney sidestepped his prior plan to strip it of its special status and impose a new board to oversee the area — which was itself retaliation for a statement they made opposing his “Parental Rights in Education Act,” which has been derided as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents.
“DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Trump wrote Tuesday on Truth Social, calling the Florida governor’s efforts “unnecessary” and “a political STUNT” that could prompt the entertainment giant to pull investments from the state.
DeSantis’ rivals know his war on Disney is core to his political image on the right and they seem eager to dirty it up early in the campaign.
Trump is one of several 2024 names raising the issue. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie slammed DeSantis during a Semafor event on Tuesday over the situation, accusing him both of betraying conservatism by getting in “the business of business” and being outsmarted by Disney.
“That’s not the guy I want sitting across from President Xi and negotiating our next agreement with China, or sitting across from Putin and trying to resolve what’s happening in Ukraine, if you can’t see around a corner that [Disney CEO] Bob Iger created for you,” Christie said.
Stand for America, a leadership PAC associated with Nikki Haley, seized on DeSantis’ half-joking comment he might build a state prison next to the park in a press release: “Who can relax enough to enjoy visits with Cinderella or Goofy knowing murderers, rapists, child predators, and other violent criminals sit within walls just a few hundred yards away from their children?”
And in February, former Vice President Mike Pence argued that seeking to punish the company for opposing the bill went beyond what he would do “as a conservative, limited-government Republican.”
A DeSantis spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a tweet, DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin argued that the Florida governor’s efforts against Disney do represent conservatism, as they “had extraordinary special privileges and an unfair special advantage compared to other businesses in the state.”
Whether targeting DeSantis over Disney is a winning message remains to be seen, particularly if the governor is able to keep the focus on the crux of the education bill — which was widely lauded by conservatives when he signed it into law — that began the battle in the first place.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of sympathy amongst GOP presidential primary voters for Hollywood entertainment conglomerates,” Justin Sayfie, who served as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s spokesman and top policy advisor, told Semafor. “It’s not hard to see how the debate over Disney can turn into a debate over whether five-year-old children should be instructed on gender issues in public schools.”
Trump’s attack also highlights another ongoing development in the slow-moving 2024 race: The former president and his orbit aren’t trying to out-conservative DeSantis on every issue. Trump’s son Don. Jr also recently pushed back on conservatives’ new war against Bud Light (after its parent company sponsored a post by transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney), calling for an end to the boycott in a video last week.
Room for Disagreement
Not everyone is convinced that DeSantis’ war on Disney will be beneficial should he officially jump into the 2024 race. Bloomberg published an opinion piece by Joshua Green on Tuesday morning arguing that voters seem less interested now in his efforts against “‘woke’ brands” than they did back when he won reelection in a landslide. Green said that voters he met at DeSantis events last year — including Republicans, independents, and Democrats — rarely cited culture war battles like the Disney faceoff as a reason they liked the Florida governor, and that DeSantis would be better off leaning into management of the economy during the pandemic.