Author: STEVE PEOPLES and BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) – An ever-deepening dispute between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney World is testing the limits of his fighting style while sending his opponents an unequivocal message that virtually nothing is out of bounds when planning his political future.
The 43-year-old Republican has repeatedly shown a strong willingness to fight in his ten-year political career. He turned against former aides and refused to redesign congressional maps by the GOP legislative government, forcing lawmakers to adopt the version he preferred, even though the Electoral Rights Group sued. And he has tended to ease tensions with Donald Trump, which is typical of someone who wants to lead a party where loyalty to the former president is a condition.
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 wrestling mentality to a new level. In retaliation for Disney’s criticism of the new state law, which critics denounced as “Don’t Say Gay,” DeSantis signed legislation Friday that stripped the theme park of a decades-old special agreement that allowed it to run itself.
To critics, including some in his own party, such brutal exercise of power suggests that DeSantis is acting with a sense of invincibility that could haunt him. Others see an ambitious politician encouraged by strong support in his country and a mountain of campaign money that seizes the opportunity to further incite national cultural wars and in the process turn into a hero among Republican voters.
“When you listen to Ron DeSantis, it’s a fair outrage:‘ You’re wrong here, and I’m right here, ’” said Florida spokesman Blaise Ingoglia, a former president of the state’s Republican Party. “And it is this just outrage and this willingness to fight back that inspires people with Ron DeSantis’ message. As long as he continues to show that he is ready to fight, people will continue to gather to him. “
DeSantis will be re-elected in November. But after breaking up with Disney, he will present himself to a key group of presidential voters next week as he leads the campaign for Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt. The performance is his first of the year in a country prominently listed on the presidential calendar, although DeSantis aides insist it is just a trip to help a longtime friend.
Disney has angered DeSantis for opposing a new state law that bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten until third grade. LGBTQ activists across the country condemned the DeSantis-backed bill as homophobic, although the move, like others dealing with transgender athletes and racial history in schools, proved to be a central part of the GOP’s political strategy.
Disney legislation, which will not take effect until June 2023, could have major economic consequences for the company, surrounding communities and the millions who visit Orlando Amusement Park each year.
There are risks to DeSantis passing legislation, especially if its antagonism to Disney threatens the GOP’s position with independents and women who could play a key role in the fall campaign. Jenna Ellis, a former lawyer for the Trump administration, called the DeSantis-backed legislation “revengeful.”
Democrats facing a difficult election year want to highlight DeSantis ’moves as a way to portray the GOP as a party of extremists. In an interview, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison described DeSantis ’attack on Disney as a continuation of a“ divergent agenda ”aimed at booking conservative media interviews at the expense of his constituents.
“The people of Florida deserve a governor whose first priority is them, not his own political ambitions,” Harrison said.
President Joe Biden said at a party fundraiser in Oregon last week that it was “not your father’s Republican Party.”
“I respect conservatives,” Biden said Thursday at a DNC fundraiser in Seattle. “There’s nothing conservative about deciding to throw Disney out of your current position because … you think you shouldn’t say ‘gay.'”
In a statement, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske described the governor as “a principled and driven leader who achieves exactly what he says he will do.”
Indeed, DeSantis ’friends and foes in the GOP agree that his crackdown on Disney is a major political victory among Republican base voters who are already excited about his resistance to pandemic-related public health measures over the past two years. They also suggest touching on the growing Republican acceptance of anti-corporate populism and parental control over education, which resonates with a wider circle of voters.
Republican pollsters have been privately testing DeSantis ’political power outside of Florida for months now, noting that the only Republican to have consistently greater support among GOP voters than DeSantis is Trump himself. At the same time, DeSantis has more than $ 100 million in campaign 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 one message needs to be taken from the fight with Disney: that DeSantis, one of the few prominent Republicans who has not ruled out running against Trump in the 2024 presidential election, is not afraid of anyone , anything or any fight.
Tensions between the men have been rising for months.
Last month, in an interview with the Washington Post, Trump took credit for DeSantis ’rise. And last weekend, longtime Trump-loyal Roger Stone posted a video in which Stone names DeSantis swearing while Trump greets him at Mar-a-Lago, his club in Florida.
For now, Florida voters seem to be on DeSantis ’side.
Nearly 6 in 10 Florida voters approved of DeSantis ’job in a February poll conducted by the University of North Florida. The poll also asked registered Republicans about a hypothetical presidential election between Trump and DeSantis. The result? Trump and DeSantis were statistically equal.
Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist and big Republican fundraiser, said DeSantis has a “combination of popularity and instincts” that shapes modern state nationality.
“No other elected official, perhaps in the country, has the support of a Republican base like Ron DeSantis has. So he is incredibly strong, not just a strong politician, but a strong head of government, ”Ballard said. “The boy really has the reins of power in his hands.”
Peoples reports from New York. Associated Press writer Anthony Izaguirre contributed to this report.
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