DeSantis checks limits of his combative fashion in Disney feud

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ‘ deepening feud with Walt Disney World is testing the limits of his combative leadership style while sending an unmistakable message to his rivals that virtually nothing is off limits as he plots his political future.

The 43-year-old Republican has repeatedly demonstrated an acute willingness to fight over the course of his decadelong political career. He has turned against former aides and rejected the GOP Legislature’s rewrite of congressional maps, forcing lawmakers to settle for a model extra to his liking, although voting rights group have sued. And he’s leaned into simmering tensions with Donald Trump, which is notable for somebody looking for to steer a celebration the place loyalty to the previous president is a requirement.

But DeSantis’ choice to punish Disney World, one of many world’s hottest vacationer locations and one among Florida’s greatest personal employers, took his fighter mentality to a brand new degree. In retribution for Disney’s criticism of a brand new state legislation condemned by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” DeSantis signed laws on Friday stripping the theme park of a decades-old particular settlement that allowed it to control itself.

To critics, together with some in his personal social gathering, such a uncooked train of energy suggests DeSantis is working with a way of invincibility that might come again to hang-out him. Others see an formidable politician emboldened by sturdy assist in his state and a mountain of marketing campaign money grabbing a chance to additional stoke the nation’s tradition wars, turning himself right into a hero amongst Republican voters within the course of.

“When you listen to Ron DeSantis, it’s righteous indignation: ‘Here’s why you’re wrong and here’s why I’m right,’’” mentioned Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a former state GOP chairman. “And it is that righteous indignation and that willingness to fight back that endears people to Ron DeSantis’ message. As long as he keeps on showing that he’s willing to fight, people are going to continue to keep flocking to him.“

DeSantis is up for reelection in November. But in the wake of his scrap with Disney, he will introduce himself to a key group of presidential primary voters this coming week when he campaigns for Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt. The appearance marks his first of the year in a state featured prominently on the presidential calendar, although DeSantis aides insist it is simply a trip to help out a longtime friend.

Disney drew DeSantis’ wrath for opposing a new state law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. 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 piece of the GOP’s political strategy.

The Disney legislation, which does not take effect until June 2023, could cause massive economic fallout for the company, the surrounding communities and the millions who visit the Orlando amusement park every year.

There are risks to DeSantis’ embrace of the legislation, particularly if his antagonism towards Disney threatens the GOP’s standing with independents and women, who could play crucial roles in the fall campaign. Jenna Ellis, a former Trump administration attorney, called the DeSantis-backed legislation “vengeful.”

Democrats who’re dealing with a troublesome election yr are keen to spotlight DeSantis’ strikes as a approach to painting the GOP as a celebration of extremists. In an interview, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison described DeSantis’ assault on Disney as a continuation of a “divisive agenda” geared towards reserving interviews on conservative media on the expense of his constituents.

“The people of Florida deserve a governor whose first priority is them, not his own political ambition,” Harrison mentioned.

President Joe Biden mentioned at social gathering fundraiser this previous week in Oregon that this “is not your father’s Republican Party.”

“I respect conservatives,” Biden mentioned at a DNC fundraiser in Seattle on Thursday. “There’s nothing conservative about deciding you’re going to throw Disney out of its present posture because … you think we should be not be able to say, ‘gay.’“

In a statement, DeSantis’ spokesperson Taryn Fenske, called the governor a “principled and driven leader who accomplishes exactly what he says he will do.”

Indeed, DeSantis’ associates and foes within the GOP agree that his crackdown on Disney is a significant political victory amongst Republican base voters already enamored by his pushback towards pandemic-related public well being measures over the previous two years. They recommend it additionally faucets right into a rising Republican embrace of anti-corporate populism and parental management of training that resonates with a wider swath of voters.

Republicans pollsters have been privately testing DeSantis’ political energy past Florida for a number of months, discovering that the one Republican constantly with extra assist than DeSantis amongst GOP voters is Trump himself. At the identical time, DeSantis is sitting on greater than $100 million in marketing campaign funds.

“He’s a very smart guy in what he’s doing and how he’s doing it,” Republican strategist David Urban, an in depth Trump ally, mentioned of DeSantis.

Those near the Florida governor say there may be one message above all to remove from the Disney struggle: that DeSantis, one of many few high-profile Republicans who has not dominated out working towards Trump in a 2024 presidential major, isn’t afraid of anyone, something or any struggle.

Tensions between the 2 males have been constructing for months.

In a Washington Post interview final month, Trump took credit score for DeSantis’ rise. And final weekend, longtime Trump loyalist Roger Stone launched a video clip during which Stone calls DeSantis an expletive whereas greeting Trump at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida membership.

So far, Florida voters appear to be on DeSantis’ facet.

Nearly 6 in 10 Florida voters permitted of DeSantis’ job efficiency in a February ballot carried out by the University of North Florida. The ballot additionally requested registered Republicans a couple of hypothetical presidential major between Trump and DeSantis. The outcome? Trump and DeSantis have been statistically tied.

Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist and a significant Republican fundraiser, mentioned DeSantis has “a combination of popularity and instincts” that’s shaping the modern-day GOP.

“No other elected official, maybe in the country, has the Republican base support that Ron DeSantis has. So he’s incredibly powerful, not only a powerful politician, but a powerful government leader,” Ballard mentioned. “The guy really has the reins of power in his hands.”


Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press author Anthony Izaguirre contributed to this report.


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