TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis The deeper feud with Walt Disney World tests the limits of his combative leadership style, while sending an unmistakable message to his rivals that virtually nothing is out of bounds when planning his political future.
The 43-year-old Republican has repeatedly demonstrated an acute will to fight during his year-long political career. He has turned to former aides and rejected the GOP’s Legislative Assembly rewriting congressional cards, forcing lawmakers to accept a version more to his liking and got suffrage groups to sue. He has also leaned into smoldering tensions with Donald Trumpwhich is remarkable for someone seeking to lead a party where loyalty to the former president is a requirement.
But DeSantis’ decision to punish Disney World, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and one of Florida’s largest private employers, took his fighter mentality to a new level. In retaliation for Disney’s criticism of a new state law condemned by critics as “Don’t Say Gay”, DeSantis on Friday signed a law that deprived the amusement park of a decades-old special agreement that allowed it to govern itself.
For critics, including some in his own party, such a crude exercise of power suggests that DeSantis operates with a sense of invincibility that could come back and haunt him. Others see an ambitious politician encouraged by strong support in his state and a mountain of campaign money seizing an opportunity to further inflame the nation’s cultural wars and transform himself into a hero among Republican voters in the process.
“When you listen to Ron DeSantis, it’s just indignation: ‘Here’s why you’re wrong, and here’s why I’m right,’ ‘the Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, former GOP President. “And it is the just indignation and willingness to fight back that makes people happy with Ron DeSantis’ message. As long as he continues to show that he is willing to fight, people will continue to flock to him. ”
DeSantis is ready for re-election in November. But in the wake of his scrap with Disney, he will present himself to a key group of presidential primary voters this week as he campaigns for Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt. Appearance marks his first of the year in a state that is prominent on the presidential calendar, though DeSantis assistants insist it’s simply a trip to help a longtime friend.
Disney aroused DeSantis’ anger at opposing a new state law banning teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in third-grade kindergarten. The DeSantis-backed bill has been condemned by LGBTQ activists nationwide as homophobic, although the measure, like others dealing with transgender athletes and racial history in schools, has emerged as a core of the GOP’s political strategy.
The Disney legislation, which does not enter into force until June 2023, could cause massive economic downturn for the company, the surrounding communities and the millions who visit the Orlando theme park each year.
There are risks in DeSantis’ embrace of the law, especially if his antagonism of Disney threatens the GOP’s position among independents and women who could play crucial roles in the fall campaign. Jenna Ellis, a former Trump administration lawyer, called the DeSantis-backed legislation “vengeful.”
Democrats facing a tough election year are eager to highlight DeSantis’ move as a way to portray the GOP as a party of extremists. In an interview, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, described DeSantis’ attack on Disney as a continuation of a “divisive agenda” aimed at booking interviews on conservative media at the expense of his constituents.
“The people of Florida deserve a governor whose first priority is them, not his own political ambition,” Harrison said.
President Joe Biden said at a party rally in Seattle that this “is not your father’s Republican party.”
“I respect conservatives,” Biden told donors on Thursday. “There’s nothing conservative about deciding you want to throw Disney out of its current position because … you think we should not be able to say ‘gay’.”
In a statement, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske called the governor a “principled and driven leader who achieves exactly what he says he will do.”
In fact, DeSantis’ friends and foes in the GOP agree that his repression of Disney is a major political victory among Republican base voters who have already been enthusiastic about his setback to pandemic-related public health measures over the past two years. They suggest it also intervenes in a growing Republican embrace of anti-corporate populism and parental control of education that resonates with a wider range of voters.
Republican pollsters have been privately testing DeSantis’ political strength outside Florida for several months, finding that the only Republican who consistently has more support than DeSantis among GOP voters is Trump himself. At the same time, DeSantis holds more than $ 100 million in promotional funds.
“He’s a very smart guy in what he does and how he does it,” Republican strategist David Urban, a close Trump ally, said of DeSantis.
Those close to the Florida governor say there is, above all, one message to take away from the Disney fight: that DeSantis, one of the few high-profile Republicans who has not ruled out running against Trump in a 2024 presidential election, not afraid of anyone, anything or any fight.
The tensions between the two men have been building for several months.
In a Washington Post interview last month, Trump took credit for DeSantis’ progress. And last weekend, longtime Trump loyalist Roger Stone released a video clip in which Stone calls DeSantis an exclamation while greeting Trump at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club.
So far, voters in Florida appear to be on DeSantis’ side.
Nearly 6 out of 10 voters in Florida approved DeSantis’ job performance in a February poll conducted by the University of North Florida. The survey also asked registered Republicans about a hypothetical presidential election between Trump and DeSantis. The result? Trump and DeSantis were about equal.
Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist and a major Republican fundraiser, said DeSantis has “a combination of popularity and instincts” that shape the modern GOP.
“No other elected official, perhaps in the country, has the basic Republican support that Ron DeSantis has. So he is incredibly powerful, not just a powerful politician, but a powerful head of government,” Ballard said. “The guy really has the reins of power in his hands. . “
People reported from New York. Associated Press writer Anthony Izaguirre contributed to this report.