Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is taking heat from fellow Republicans over his feud with Disney, as his potential rivals for the White House see an opportunity to call him out as flouting traditional conservatism.
Former President Donald J. Trump this week slammed the governor’s efforts as a “political stunt” and said Mr. DeSantis was being outplayed by the company.
“DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Mr. Trump wrote on Tuesday on Truth Social, his media site, using a dismissive nickname for the governor. Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also took a shot, suggesting Mr. DeSantis’s talk of punishing a business defied principles about small government.
“I don’t think Ron DeSantis is conservative, based on actions towards Disney,” he said at an event on Tuesday hosted by the news outlet Semafor. “Where are we headed here now that, if you express disagreement in this country, the government is now going to punish you? To me, that’s what I always thought liberals did, and now all of a sudden here we are participating in this with a Republican governor.”
The criticism reflects a growing effort by Mr. Trump and other prospective candidates to try to undermine the core argument of Mr. DeSantis’s case for the nomination: that he is the Republican most likely to win a general election. Advisers to Mr. Trump and other possible rivals believe moves like going after Disney will be damaging in a general election, if not necessarily in the G.O.P. primary.
Understand the DeSantis-Disney Rift
Some Republican strategists even argued that the move risked turning off the party’s primary voters, saying they were confused by Mr. DeSantis’s decision to dig into a fight against a company with broad appeal and considerable resources to fight back.
Mr. DeSantis’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The dispute between Mr. DeSantis and Disney — Florida’s largest private employer and corporate taxpayer — started when company officials criticized a bill that Mr. DeSantis signed into law this year. The law, which critics called a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, curtails instruction and discussion of gender and sexuality in some elementary school grades.
In response to the criticism, Mr. DeSantis moved to exert greater control over the company through a district board, but officials at the company quietly found a way to strip that board of power. Mr. DeSantis has since moved to try to take control again, and floated the possibilities of everything from new taxes on Disney — which would most likely be passed along to people using Disney’s park — to building a state prison nearby.
In his post, Mr. Trump suggested that the threats could backfire and that the company could respond by pulling out of Florida. “Watch!” he wrote. “That would be a killer. In the meantime, this is all so unnecessary, a political STUNT!”
The former president himself has never shied away from attacking companies he doesn’t like.
Despite a steady stream of criticism from fellow Republicans — former Vice President Mike Pence, who is considering a campaign of his own, chided Mr. DeSantis on the issue in February — it’s not clear that Mr. DeSantis’s actions have hurt him uniformly on the right.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board, on Tuesday evening, criticized the governor for the arc of the feud with Disney but took greater issue with Mr. Trump for his attack.
“You’d think the former President would be critical of Disney’s woke turn, but his only abiding political conviction is personal advantage,” the board wrote.
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