Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken an informal survey of Republicans and independents I know who favor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination to challenge President Joe Biden in 2024. Many of those I spoke to still feel that most of the The policies issued by former President Donald J. Trump reflect their values and positions. That said, no one I associate with is in favor of Trump running next year.
Some fear, as in 2020, that millions more Democrats will go to the polls just to vote against Trump. Some feel Trump is too divisive and too much of a school bully, like the Iowa voter quoted when DeSantis visited a Pizza Ranch restaurant: “I really like Trump’s policies … but he’s not good man. I don’t want to sit down and have dinner with him.”
Like him or not, Trump seems to be in the race to stay. On top of that, he’s already proven he’ll use any misstep — invented or not — by DeSantis to not only bash the Florida governor but turn his political action committee into a commercial counter- DeSantis.
Which brings us back to my informal survey of over 20 Republicans and independents. The question I asked them was this: “Was it wrong for DeSantis to declare a rhetorical war on Disney and its CEO, Bob Iger?”
Trump is already on the record saying this.
While everyone I spoke to agreed that Disney and Iger himself were being bullied by elements on the left to oppose an education bill the governor signed in 2022 that would have banned talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom until after in the third grade — a bill that, on the left, Disney and many in the media called “Don’t Say Gay” — about half felt that DeSantis made a reckless and unnecessary fight with a a wise and political CEO in the person of Bob Iger.
Back in the late 90s, when I was the communications director for former Senator Bob Dole (R-Kansas), I had the opportunity to speak with Iger several times. He is a vice president of Disney and honestly could not have been nicer or more professional.
But even so, it’s clear that Iger not only understands how Washington works in a political and relational way, but better positions Disney to participate in the political process when necessary.
Today, more than two decades later, he is one of the most powerful and respected CEOs in the world. Now, while Iger is a Democrat and seems to lean left, I suspect the fight he’s now waging against DeSantis — originally initiated by his predecessor, Bob Chapek — is one he wants to avoid.
But, as he and his company were now torn in the middle of it, he had no intention of losing. And that’s the fear of many Republicans and independents I’ve talked to. They worry that DeSantis has picked a fight with a man and a firm with an almost infinite budget and could turn the tide of the best corporate and litigation lawyers across the state in Florida.
As if to confirm that concern, last week Iger attacked DeSantis and his team, saying, “It’s about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliation against us for taking a position on pending legislation” – the “it” which is the ever-increasing fight for control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created in 1967 to give Disney broad powers of self-management.
To show they have no intention of backing down, earlier this month Disney sued DeSantis and his chosen Central Florida Tourism Oversight District for allegedly violating the company’s free speech rights.
DeSantis immediately dismissed the lawsuit and said he would continue to try to curb Disney’s power by regaining control of the land used by Disney World.
“Sometimes you need an executive to come in and tell them to hit the sand,” DeSantis said in an interview with The American Conservative.
“Retaliation” accuses Iger. “Pound sand” replied DeSantis.
A very deep line was drawn in the sand by the two men.
But again, the fear of many Republicans and independents I speak to is this: If DeSantis can’t beat “The Mouse” in his home state, how can he beat Trump and then the Democratic nominee in the fall of 2024?
Regardless, DeSantis is clearly in it to win it. Many of his supporters just hope it doesn’t amount to a Pyrrhic victory.
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a White House writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon for the last three years of the Bush administration.
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