The recent retreat of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from his ongoing dispute with the Walt Disney Company highlights a significant reality about the entire contentious situation.
Rather than being a firm stand against the unique advantages awarded to a private enterprise, the conflict appeared to be a calculated political maneuver aimed at amplifying DeSantis’ recognition at the national level.
Having succeeded in that mission and now facing the possibility of a legal challenge with Disney, DeSantis informed CNBC on Monday that he has “moved on” from the matter. He further urged Disney to “drop the lawsuit” filed in April against his government.
The lawsuit from Disney alleges that DeSantis initiated a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” following public criticism by then-CEO Bob Chapek against DeSantis’ signing of a bill restricting discussion on gender and sexuality in specific classrooms. This legislation was subsequently broadened to apply to almost all public classrooms in Florida. DeSantis countered by attacking Disney’s particular jurisdiction, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, leading to a state law that allowed him to appoint a new governing body for the area.
While DeSantis and his supporters label this action as a move against corporate privilege, Disney’s lawsuit offers a persuasive argument that the governor explicitly aimed at Disney as retribution for Chapek’s statements. Evidence from public utterances and DeSantis’ recent book supports the claim that he sought to penalize Disney’s right to the first amendment of free speech.
DeSantis’ decision to step back from the conflict is understandable, primarily because losing in federal court on such a fundamental constitutional matter would tarnish his image, especially if he aspires to the presidency. Even without a loss, the ongoing lawsuit promises to be a continual source of negative press and uncomfortable questions.
Yet, extricating himself from this situation may not be as easy as requesting Disney to abandon the lawsuit and move on. Questions linger: Will DeSantis seek to reverse the control over the Reedy Creek board? If not, why should Disney relent?
Further queries could also investigate whether DeSantis would act similarly against other corporations criticizing his policies. Disney has the resources to push back, but others might not. Is DeSantis prepared to acknowledge his mistake in attacking Disney? His response could enlighten voters considering his potential candidacy for a higher office.
If moving on from the lawsuit had genuinely been a stand against corporate power, as he contended, he would have seen the fight to its conclusion. Instead, it seems that DeSantis wants to close this chapter of the political theater before it further complicates his political ambitions.