The Republican war against Disney has been a long time in the making, but on Wednesday afternoon it reached a whole new level.
What began months ago as just another salvo in the culture wars suddenly became about threatening a major part of the Florida economy, in a major political gamble by Republicans.
The political dynamic is a familiar one after the last five years. People may have been surprised to wake up one day and see the nation was fighting over Starbucks and Christmas, but the logical extension has been the later kerfuffles over Dr. Seuss, Amazon Prime, and now Disney.
The Disney part largely began after Florida passed what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans any discussion about gender and sexuality from kindergarten through third grade. It’s intended to bar discussion that might normalize same-sex families that might be the reality for teachers or students.
At first, Disney was criticized by its own employees for not saying anything against the law as it was being debated. Then Disney announced that not only did it oppose the law, it would no longer give donations to any Florida lawmakers who voted for it. This especially mattered because Disney’s donations in Florida were heavily skewed toward Republicans, who have dominated state politics for decades.
Among those who would no longer receive donations from Disney is Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis. Aiming to increase his national profile ahead of a potential presidential run, DeSantis has tried to make headlines as a champion in the conservative right’s culture war. He was, indeed, a chief architect of the law that Disney opposed.
For at least a month, Republicans have used Disney as a foil for fundraising and attention. DeSantis took on the company repeatedly in e-mail pitches. Texas Senator Ted Cruz followed suit. As did a lot of Republicans. It’s not unlike the way they have also tried to capitalize on their opposition to Big Tech or “woke Hollywood.”
What is different, however, about this situation is that it may backfire.
On Tuesday, DeSantis said that he wanted the Florida legislature to use its special session to vote to remove the special governing status of Disney World, something that has been in place for nearly 70 years.
The legislature has every right to do so. After all, they granted the authority for Disney World to essentially govern itself and have its own fire department and security and also avoid some taxes. (To be sure, Disney does pay a significant amount of tax.)
Yes, the bill immediately got both the attention of Disney, of Floridians, and of Republicans watching Fox News this week. And on Wednesday afternoon the Florida State Senate voted to strip Disney of the self-governing status it has given nearly 1,800 areas in the state for similar purposes.
However, if it passes the Florida House and it is signed by DeSantis, there could be actual consequences. First is that Disney may threaten to leave, or actually leave, Disney World, and much of its outdated Florida facilities. That would be a crushing economic blow to Central Florida, which relies heavily on tourism.
Second is that local leaders say it means that Orange County taxpayers will be on the hook to pay back $2 billion in debt it incurred to make infrastructure improvements for Disney. That would mean that heading into a presidential run, DeSantis could be a Republican who raised taxes.
Given that DeSantis already got the attention he wanted from national Republicans, it will be interesting to see if someday soon he’s signing a bill to punish Mickey and all his friends.