DeSantis takes on Mickey Mouse: What’s at stake?
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen as one of Trump’s most serious challengers, has been locked in a battle with Disney for over a year now. Disney, which has operated in Orlando with a special status since the 1960s, is like an autonomous republic. Its massive theme park contributes significantly to the state’s economy by attracting tourists from all over the world. DeSantis is a conservative politician representing the right-wing of the Republican Party, and he has passed a law limiting the content of sex education in state schools in line with his views. When Disney criticized this law in public, it sparked DeSantis’s fight against the corporation.
DeSantis, who has taken up the banner of the cultural wars that conservatives consider important, has recently succeeded in passing another law that limits abortion to six weeks within the state. By engaging in a culture war with a massive corporation like Disney, DeSantis is trying to gain the full support of conservatives and show that he is not afraid to engage in political battles with private companies if necessary. Polls show that this strategy has not been enough to win over Trumpian conservative supporters to his side, but DeSantis does not seem to be giving up on the culture wars anytime soon.
DeSantis’ feud with Disney is rooted in the public backlash against a law passed by the state legislature last year that limited the content of sexual education in schools. Those who opposed the law and organized against it claimed that it had an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda and pressured institutions like Disney to take action. In response, Disney publicly declared its opposition to the law through a statement and the CEO’s phone call to DeSantis. DeSantis then decided to wage war against Disney by taking steps in the state legislature to change its status with tax privileges and alter its board of directors.
After the law was passed by the state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, DeSantis appointed a new board of directors. In response, Disney sought to limit the power of the new board by enforcing some of the decisions made by the old one. When the new board changed those decisions, Disney took the matter to court. DeSantis, who criticized Disney’s appeal to a court with a judge appointed by Obama, seems determined to win this battle. However, DeSantis’ fight with Disney is not seen as a positive development by Republicans who are friendly to big corporations. Dealing with private capital in the name of cultural wars does not please centrist Republicans.
DeSantis has shown his determination to advance the cultural wars by passing a law that restricts abortion to six weeks. However, controversial issues like this have been costly to Trump and Trump-supporting candidates in past midterm elections. Although middle-class educated Republican women living in suburbs are known to accept restrictions on abortion, they are against taking away this option altogether. Polls show that centrist Republicans do not give much importance to cultural wars and want more focus on economic and educational issues. DeSantis’ strategy of trying to please the conservative base rather than listening to the demands of this group is diminishing his chances against Trump.
During the pandemic, DeSantis gained attention by opposing business closures in Florida. The state, which has no income tax and is a friend to technology firms, experienced strong economic growth due to migration from other states. DeSantis’ pandemic management and economic success are powerful assets, and his focus on cultural wars is causing his political strategy to be questioned. After announcing his candidacy, DeSantis may adopt a more centrist image and emerge as a candidate who can appeal to a wider audience in the general election. In this case, his chances against Trump may improve. However, his current approach of gaining ground against the former president through fights with Disney and issues like abortion seem difficult.
In taking on an iconic company like Disney, which has become a symbol for the American family through its beloved character Mickey Mouse, Governor DeSantis demonstrates political courage. However, this move also carries significant risks. The slogan that no privileged company is above the law does not resonate with many, as American capitalism has become so successful by allowing such privileges for large companies due to the economic value they produce. It is not easy for DeSantis to demonize a company that is so closely associated with iconic characters in American culture, as he seeks to represent the values of truth and awareness.
Challenging big capital may alienate center-right Republicans, abortion restrictions could alienate women voters, and fighting with Disney could alienate middle-class voters. If DeSantis fails to find political gain in his fight against Mickey Mouse, he may be forced to pivot towards more centrist politics.