DeSantis political rivals seize on Disney feud

Former President Donald Trump and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu are among those calling DeSantis out.
North Carolina Democrats are suggesting that Walt Disney World relocate to their state as they take advantage of the company's feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
North Carolina Democrats are suggesting that Walt Disney World relocate to their state as they take advantage of the company's feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. [ MIAMI HERALD FILE | Miami Herald ]
Published April 20

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to keep the heat on Walt Disney World in his protracted feud with one of the state’s largest employers, rivals from both sides of the political spectrum are taking advantage of the moment to court Disney or call DeSantis out.

Democratic legislators in North Carolina on Wednesday proposed a bill, called the “Mickey’s Freedom Restoration Act,” that would fund “a study commission to develop a plan to attract family amusement parks to the state.”

Former President Donald Trump suggested the governor had been “outplayed, outsmarted, and embarrassed by Mickey Mouse,” calling his effort to pass new legislation aimed at the company a “political STUNT.”

“DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Trump wrote on Tuesday on Truth Social, his media site, using a nickname he has given the governor. “Disney’s next move will be the announcement that no more money will be invested in Florida because of the Governor — In fact, they could even announce a slow withdrawal or sale of certain properties, or the whole thing. Watch! That would be a killer.”

DeSantis, who is expected to announce his intentions to run for the GOP nomination for president in the next month, is seen as Trump’s closest rival, but other Republicans interested in a White House bid in 2024 have also lobbed criticism at the Florida governor’s actions.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has suggested he is interested in seeking the GOP nomination for president, said the Disney dust-up signals a judgment failure on DeSantis’ part.

“Look, this has gone from kind of going after a headline to something that has devolved into an issue, and it convolutes the entire Republican message,” Sununu told CNN on Monday night. “... it’s not good for Gov. DeSantis. I don’t think it’s good for the Republican Party.”

Christie: A violation of Republican principles

On Tuesday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accused DeSantis of violating conservative Republican principles by taking aim at a private company in retaliation for speaking out against DeSantis.

“That’s not the guy I want sitting across from President Xi,” Christie said, referring to Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader. " ... or sitting across from [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin and trying to resolve what’s happening in Ukraine, if you can’t see around a corner [Disney CEO] Bob Iger created for you.”

“I don’t think Ron DeSantis is a conservative, based on his actions towards Disney,” Christie added during an interview that was streamed on the media platform Semafor.

If DeSantis has heard the criticism, he has been unfazed by it. On Monday, he announced that among the infrastructure projects the district’s new board could consider on the 39-square mile property owned by Disney and controlled by the district would be a prison adjacent to the theme park.

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“Disney’s sloppy and futile attempt to subvert the will of the Legislature and Floridians was uncovered by our state oversight board and their 11th hour agreements will be nullified by the Legislature,’’ DeSantis wrote on Twitter this week. “Disney’s corporate kingdom is over.”

The board DeSantis appointed to control the special taxing district on Wednesday announced a list of infrastructure projects it intends to pursue that will require it to raise taxes on the major property owner in the district, Disney.

Also Wednesday, legislators barreled ahead with his plan to pass legislation that attempts to remove the legal hurdles to invalidate an agreement the Disney-controlled board made with the company before the governor’s hand-picked board took over.

Democrats take advantage

Democrats, however, see the governor’s sustained attention to Disney as an opportunity to focus on what he is not talking about.

“As part of his revenge, Ron DeSantis wants to build a prison right in the heart of Florida’s tourist mecca and drive out our largest employer,” said Florida Democratic Party Leader Nikki Fried. “He continues to ignore the most critical needs of Floridians but is succeeding in hurting Florida’s business climate, deterring visitors from our state, and chasing out world-class professors from our state university system. "

In North Carolina, the bill filed by state Sen. Michael K. Garrett, a Democrat from Greensboro, faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Legislature. But the measure hits at many of the hot buttons Democrats see as a weakness in the governor’s strategy.

The bill cites the Disney CEO’s comments from earlier this month criticizing Florida’s “anti-business” and “anti-Florida” actions against the company and, without directly condemning the Florida Legislature, it references “some states [that] have recently begun to prioritize ‘culture war’ politics over economic development.”

“Politicians who put their state’s economy at risk to boost their own selfish political ambitions are a liability. In North Carolina, we’ve learned this lesson the hard way,” Garrett said when filing the legislation. “I welcome The Walt Disney Company and all other businesses seeking refuge from the culture war madness currently gripping the great state of Florida.”

If passed into law, the bill would empower an 11-person committee with $750,000 to investigate strategies for securing Disney’s relocation. But in North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, it’s unlikely the bill will move forward.

“Florida doesn’t seem a good fit for the happiest place on earth these days,” North Carolina Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue tweeted Wednesday. “In NC, y’all still means all.”

Lars Dolder at The Raleigh News & Observer contributed reporting.