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Ron DeSantis Went to War Against Disney. Some in the GOP Hate It

Mickey Mouse at Disney's Magic Kingdom
Mickey Mouse at Disney's Magic Kingdom. August 2022. Image Credit: 19FortyFive.

Ron DeSantis vs. Disney: A Mistake? A disagreement between the former vice president and the Florida governor, two possible 2024 presidential candidates, hints at a divide in conservatism about the proper uses of the power of government. 

In his time as the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis has often used government to fight culture war battles, from restrictions on what can be taught in schools to the notorious law that opponents call “Don’t Say Gay.” Another big part of that has been DeSantis’ battles with The Walt Disney Company, which is one of Florida’s largest employers. 

After Disney executives were critical of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Ron DeSantis retaliated, in part by signing a bill that ended Disney’s special tax status in one area of Florida. That type of initiative, as well as a piece of law, called the Stop WOKE ACT, helped DeSantis win a landslide re-election last year, and positioned him for a presidential run. 

Now, DeSantis has been criticized for that stance by another potential candidate for president in 2024, former Vice President Mike Pence. 

Pence made the comments in an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” show on Wednesday. Asked what he thinks about DeSantis’ actions in regard to Disney, Pence took issue with it. 

“I fully supported Florida’s initiative to protect kids and protect parental rights,” the socially conservative former Indiana governor and vice president said on CNBC. “But I have concerns about the follow-on. Look, Disney stepped into the fray, and they lost… that was beyond the scope of what I as a conservative, limited government Republican would do.” 

On top of providing a preview of what the dynamics of the 2024 Republican contest will look like — might Pence and Trump gang up on Ron DeSantis, despite their considerable differences? — the moment provides a fascinating look at the changing nature of American conservatism.

While there have always been exceptions, conservatism has traditionally stood for small government and a lack of over-the-top intervention in areas of commerce. That was, at least, the ethos of the Reagan era, even as subsequent Republican presidents were slow to actually cut the size of government.

However, the Ron DeSantis style is more in line with using the power of government to strike back at perceived enemies and to punish those whom his political supporters dislike. In the post-Trump era, that’s certainly something that the conservative base has come to expect and enjoy, especially since Donald Trump is not a product of movement conservatism, and rarely spoke about small government. Nor did Trump often express any concerns about using the power of government to his own ends.

Pence, his credentials as a social conservative notwithstanding, might be taking a line — that it’s wrong for the government to do certain things because conservative principles say so — that’s considerably out of step with what a Republican primary electorate wants to hear.

This is especially the case as Trump and DeSantis seem likely to spend much of the primary season trying to convince voters that each of them is more qualified than the other to destroy the Deep State, the woke mob, and the Walt Disney Company. It is those who believe that the “woke” has taken over all of the nation’s business and cultural institutions, and therefore it’s up to the government to strike back.

The Twitter account known as “End Wokeness” articulated this view.

“Mike Pence condemns Governor DeSantis for taking on Disney. This weak mindset is what got us to where we are today,” the tweet said. “70+ years of losing the culture wars to the left is MORE THAN ENOUGH.”

On the other hand, whatever the current woes of their stock price or streaming subscriber numbers, Disney is a pretty popular company, and its cultural products, from its theme parks to its movies and shows, are consumed by a wide variety of people across the political spectrum. It’s not discussed much when it comes to DeSantis, but running against Disney could cost him votes when it comes time to face an electorate outside of Florida.

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Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.