Disney decides to play hardball with DeSantis

The Disney corporation and Florida governor Ron DeSantis have been in a tit-for-tat escalation ever since Disney criticized Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws which DeSantis has been using as his signature issue to highlight his ‘anti-woke’ credentials that he clearly hoped would propel him to the Republican nomination for president, even though he has not formally declared himself as a candidate yet.

The Disney corporation has now escalated it even further by suing DeSantis.

Disney sued Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and presumed challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday, saying he had subjected it to “a targeted campaign of government retaliation”.

The entertainment giant wants a court to overturn state efforts to exert control over Walt Disney World in Orlando. The lawsuit was filed within minutes of a DeSantis-appointed oversight board voting to override agreements made in February that allowed the company to expand the theme park and maintain control over neighboring land.

Disney called the state government’s action “patently retaliatory, patently anti-business and patently unconstitutional”.

It added: “At the governor’s bidding, the state’s oversight board has purported to ‘void’ publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.

I had been wondering whether and when this might happen. As far as I am aware, Disney has not broken any laws for which they could be punished. Their ‘crime’ is that they criticized a policy that had been championed by DeSantis and passed by the Florida legislature at his behest. Ever since then, he has been using his powers as governor and using the legislature to attack the business interests of the Disney corporation.

The government cannot target and retaliate against someone for speech that they do not like. And over the recent decades, Republicans have gone to great lengths to push the idea that businesses have the same rights as people, thus providing them with many of the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, particularly the freedom of speech. So DeSantis was on shaky ground in trying to inflict to harm on Disney for their stance on LGBTQ+ issues, any more than he can try to harm any individual for doing so. This is the position taken by Disney CEO Bob Iger, who warned that DeSantis’s actions might discourage future investments in the state.

Disney’s chief executive, Bob Iger, has lambasted the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, as “anti-business and anti-Florida” in the latest round of a bitter public battle between the Sunshine state’s most powerful corporation and its top elected official.

At a shareholders’ meeting on Monday, Iger said that “a company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do” but the governor got “very angry over the position Disney took”.

“He’s decided to retaliate against us, including the naming of a new board to oversee the property, in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me,” Iger told shareholders.

Iger also said that Disney, which is the state’s largest corporate employer and taxpayer, was planning to invest more than $17bn in the resort over the next decade, creating an estimated 13,000 additional Disney jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs, which would “generate more taxes” and increase tourist numbers to the state.

“And so our premise is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida,” said Iger, who was both praised and criticised by shareholders for the company’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights.

DeSantis’s spokesperson has tried to make the case that Disney had been granted special privileges that other businesses do not have in terms of control over Reedy Creek district where the theme park is situated, and that revoking those privileges is the right thing to do.

Jeremy Redfern, his deputy press secretary, said in a statement posted on Twitter: “We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state.

“This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”

That is true, but those privileges were granted to Disney back in 1967, so why try and revoke them now, unless it is to punish them for their recent speech?

This may not end well for DeSantis.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, called the complaint “a sweeping indictment” of DeSantis and Florida Republicans’ attempted retaliation against Disney.

“The complaint alleges violations of the federal constitution’s contracts, takings and due process clauses, and the first amendment’s free speech clause,” Tobias said in an email.

“Disney may not be able to prove violations of all of these provisions but the complaint is persuasive, creative and damning. Moreover, certain federal judges in the northern district of Florida have ruled in favor of plaintiffs in other rather similar high-profile, controversial cases.”
Tobias pointed to “Judge Robert Hinkle … who has ruled recently on a proposed execution, on transgender issues, and on DeSantis’ firing of the Hillsborough county prosecutor”, a Democrat who refused to enforce an abortion ban.

Jennifer Horn, a former Republican operative now a senior fellow at the Harris School of Public Policy, at the University of Chicago, said DeSantis “had to know [the Disney lawsuit] was coming”.

DeSantis, she said was attempting to “use government to silence speech, to punish someone who has a political disagreement with an elected leader.

“Disney wins hands down.”

Even other Republicans are aghast that a governor of a party that traditionally favors businesses, especially large corporations, is attacking business interests as part of what seems like a personal vendetta. Trump has been gloating over the plight DeSantis finds himself in.

Former President Trump, who is leading DeSantis in the polls, said last week that DeSantis is “being absolutely destroyed by Disney.”

“Disney’s next move will be the announcement that no more money will be invested in Florida because of the Governor,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social, later speculating that Disney might leave the state entirely. 

Other possible 2024 Republican contenders, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence, have accused DeSantis of betraying conservative principles of limited government intervention. 

“I don’t think Ron DeSantis is a conservative based on his actions toward Disney,” Christie said during an event hosted by Semafor. “Where are we headed here now that if you express disagreement in this country, the government is allowed to punish you?”

Things have not been going well for DeSantis recently in his stealth run for the Republican nomination. He has failed to garner endorsement from members of congress, even those from Florida, even though he went to Washington DC to appeal to them. After meeting with him, they pointedly endorsed Trump.

I have said before that DeSantis does not strike me a particularly smart person and also has poor political instincts. His recent missteps just add support to my view.

He must have thought that taking on Disney would burnish his anti-woke profile. It has, but not in the way he might have hoped. It may be best for DeSantis if he decides that the situation is hopeless and quietly drops his bid for the 2024 nomination and, to save face, claim that he never sought it in the first place. But given his recent record of blunders, it is quite possible that he continues his futile quest and suffers further ignominy.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I’ve said it before, but: recall that this fuckwit is supposedly the Republicans’ only realistic alternative to Trump as their candidate for President. What a time to be alive.

  2. says

    I do not agree with the sentiment that “corporations are people” and thus have all of the rights that people do, but this what the Republicans have been arguing for for decades. Be careful what you wish for. You wanted it, now you’ve got to deal with it.

    I find it risible that the Grover Cleveland wannabe suggests that Disney might leave Florida over this. Yeah, and I just might sprout wings and have a chat with the chickadees.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    DeSantis does not strike me a particularly smart person who has poor political instincts

    I just had a thought about this: DeSantis is, transparently, trying to out-Trump Trump, someone who is himself a not particularly smart person who has poor political instincts. Trump’s very specific brand of stupid provably works. He won in 2016 and let’s face it ran a lot closer second to Biden than he should have, increasing his voter numbers on 2016. DeSantis’s problem is that he’s not offering that very specific type of stupid, he’s trying to spin up his own. And it’s going down about as well as New Coke.

    What the Republicans need is someone who understands what it is about Trump that sells, and do that, and do it better, and do it more. That will require someone clever (for the understanding), relatively little ego (to cope with the copying) and absolutely no morals or principles (to cope with what they’d have to support).

    I’m 100% confident that the Republicans can come up with a candidate who satisfies that last criterion, but good fucking luck with the rest. Other than that, I still think that even with all the lawsuits in play, the Republicans have a choice to make -- get comfortable with the idea of Trump being their candidate for the next election, or have him whacked before polling day. I really can’t see they’ve any other options.

  4. says

    I find it risible that the Grover Cleveland wannabe suggests that Disney might leave Florida over this.

    I don’t think Disney will simply move all of their assets out of Florida. But if DeSantis keeps making Florida worse, Disney’s customer base may well go to Florida in fewer numbers, maybe choosing Anaheim instead; and thus disinvest from their Florida attractions. Whether that will be enough to make the Florida attractions fold, I don’t know; but it could hurt them and encourage them to build new attractions elsewhere.

  5. ardipithecus says

    Fight everything in the courts to delay anything meaningful against them until the next gubernatorial election, then throw as much as possible into defeating Desantis. A much less costly strategy than moving the operation.

    Winning in the courts would be even better than delaying, but the best strategy is to arrange for all roads to lead to home.

  6. Oggie: Mathom says

    Refresh my memory, please. Weren’t the GOP and conservatives oh-so-happy when SCOTUS decided that corporate contributions to candidates were considered political free speech on the part of the corporation? So now, when a corporation speaks out politically, it is not okay and the company must be punished?

    I now a man, about my age, who was furious that individuals were boycotting companies that supported extreme conservative views (I think the conversation was about Barilla pasta), who now demands that I, as well as all beer drinkers he knows, should boycott Bud Light because they were inclusive (of course, I never drank it in the first place (my taste runs more to local microbreweries) but I almost want to go out and buy a case just because).

    Both of these are presented as free speech. Yet it is great in one direction, but not the other.

    Is it my memory, their memory, or their morality, that is wonky?

  7. ardipithecus says

    Thanks, Mano. They’ll still want to oppose any republicans who support DeSantis, but this will be easier, because not all Republicans support him.

  8. says

    @3 sonofrojblake

    That will require someone clever…and (with) absolutely no morals or principles

    Who is Nikki Haley, Ken.

  9. Deepak Shetty says

    What the Republicans need is someone who understands what it is about Trump that sells, and do that, and do it better, and do it more. That will require someone clever (for the understanding), relatively little ego (to cope with the copying) and absolutely no morals or principles

    So Lindsey Graham ?
    What worked for Trump is
    a) He looked like an outsider -- and could therefore rail about the establishment with ease. Almost no one in the current republican party could pull this off.
    b) He had a tough persona on screen (You are fired!) and he had name recognition.
    c) If you turn off some parts of your brain and watch his pre 2016 election speeches -- you can sort of see his charm. (yeah im rich no one can buy me said in the sort of matter of fact , egoistic with that does seem to appeal to those who worship money for e.g.)
    d) And he can read the crowd.
    Its hard to see anyone being able to match that.

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