Sean Rayford/Getty Images; Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is showing no signs of ending his attacks on Disney.
- Increasingly, his fellow Republicans are criticizing him for his continued back-and-forth with the company.
- “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Trump wrote earlier this week.
Former President Donald Trump senses that part of Ron DeSantis’ mythmaking bravado may lead to his downfall.
“DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Trump crowed on his social media platform Truth earlier this week. “His original P.R. plan fizzled, so now he’s going back with a new one in order to save face.”
The Florida governor wanted to burnish his national image by torching Disney. While DeSantis has said he didn’t go looking for a fight with his state’s biggest employer, he has clearly delighted in needling one of the world’s largest entertainment companies.
Grasping defeat from the jaws of victory
At first, it appeared that he had won.
After DeSantis pushed a last-minute repeal of the company’s prized status through the legislature, he romped to reelection. In his book, the governor goes so far as to mention Disney’s declining market cap after it tangled with him. The message wasn’t subtle: the former congressman was selling conservatives on abandoning decades of pro-business boosterism in order to hamstring liberal CEOs that forgot their place.
But as every modern Marvel fan knows, the movie isn’t over when the credits roll. Now, as the entertainment giant digs in, DeSantis is spending the last few weeks before his widely expected presidential announcement threatening to build a big house right next to the House of Mouse.
His potential Republican challengers aren’t letting it go.
In recent days and months, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and allies of former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have all taken shots at DeSantis’ repeated tussles with Disney. They see him singling out one company for apparent retribution as apostasy for the limited government at the core of conservatism.
“I don’t think Ron DeSantis is a conservative, based on his actions towards Disney,” Christie said Tuesday during an event held by Semafor. He added that DeSantis’ actions left him questioning how the Florida governor would hold his own next to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Beyond his potential primary foes lays another difficulty: Americans still really love that mouse.
Disney has taken its hits but remains a focal point of American culture
The entertainment giant is the top studio in Hollywood. Magic Kingdom is the top theme park in the world, though Universal is gaining ground. And by gobbling up intellectual property and broadcasting rights, Disney continues to be virtually inescapable. Through its subsidiaries, it owns rights to all four of the US’ largest professional sports leagues.
As DeSantis himself knows, it’s hard to find someone in the family who doesn’t have a soft spot for magic. As Insider reported last November, he was married at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel, a resort inside the massive Walt Disney World complex, in 2009.
“This was not my idea,” DeSantis writes in “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.” “Casey’s family was what one might call a family of Disney enthusiasts.”
This is not to say DeSantis hasn’t landed some solid hits against Disney.
The fight over Florida Parental Rights in Education law, tagged “Don’t Say Gay” by its critics, helped cost CEO Bob Chapek his job. Disney has also dropped in the Axios-Harris reputational rankings for the most visible brands in America. (It should be said, its decline in the rankings began before its faceoff with DeSantis, so it’s difficult to say what exactly is behind the fall.)
In his book, DeSantis also cites two different polls about the company’s approval, but more recent data is unavailable.
But the fact remains: As of late last year, Disney still remains more popular than DeSantis.
Politicians tango with beloved pop culture juggernauts at their peril
History shows it’s not fun becoming a punchline, either.
Disney now owns the rights to “The Simpsons,” the fictional Springfield family that famously retorted to then-President George H.W. Bush’s barb that the average American family needs to be “more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.”
“Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the Depression too,” Bart Simpson replied in a last-minute response the show tacked onto a rerun.
In a more recent episode, President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign loved to tweak then-former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over his proposal to end taxpayer support of PBS. During a presidential debate, Romney said he “like[d] Big Bird” and PBS, but it was time for them to survive on their own.
Obama’s campaign had a field day. The president even signed off on a controversial ad that listed off Wall Street schemers like Bernie Madoff as an ominous announcer warned of “an evil genius that towered over them” and the “one man” who “has the guts to speak his name” before a series of clips of Romney saying “Big Bird.”
As The Washington Post’s Suzi Parker pointed out at the time, 77 million Americans grew up on Sesame Street. Imagine the generations that span from Walt Disney’s original TV show through early Disney animation, the Disney Channel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and now shows like Bluey.
It’s extremely unlikely that Mickey will deliver the blow himself. Bob Iger, who returned to his old job as CEO of Disney, has said he wants to sit down with DeSantis and hash things out. But on Wednesday, the DeSantis-picked board moved to find more avenues to punish the company.
DeSantis himself is unlikely to stop. The governor has said that traditional conservatism fails to meet the moment he now sees where “woke corporations” can use their perches to side against Republicans.
In the meantime, it won’t be hard to find reminders of Disney’s staying power.
Last weekend, the nation’s capital capped off its always-popular cherry blossom festival. And who was the leader of the club of bands, floats, and performers of the festival’s marquee parade?
All the way from Florida, it was Mickey and Minnie Mouse.