DeSantis’ Move Against Disney Signals A Drastic Change to the Future Approaches of Republican Policymakers 

Kash Jain ’24

Opinion Editor

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a right-wing Republican who many have floated as a potential candidate for the 2024 presidential election, signed into law a bill that will revoke Disney’s ability to self-govern its 25,000-acre complex. The bill, which is expected to have a considerable tax impact on Disney and will likely shift a billion dollars in debt to citizens, was quickly pushed through the legislature by Republicans after Disney criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and announced that it would halt and reevaluate political donations in the state. 

This law symbolizes a significant shift in the Republican Party’s policymaking approach and strategies, one that could be mirrored at the federal level if DeSantis or a like-minded candidate became President and had a Republican-majority Congress.  

Trump often floundered when it came to making policy outside of the executive branch, even when Republicans controlled Congress. Under Biden, Congressional Republicans have focused on impeding policy and even routine measures. McConnell has repeatedly stated that the party will not offer a legislative agenda should they retake a majority. On the whole, Republicans in DC seem largely uninterested in governing—yet Republicans in Florida have done the opposite: aggressive legislating where every culture war issue is used as an opportunity to usher in policy. It’s unlikely that DC Republicans will suddenly adopt this same ferocity, but if the people who hold those seats change, the approach to making policy may as well. With more Trump and Freedom Caucus-backed candidates than ever before—including many seeking to oust members of their own party who they view as not being conservative enough—there is a good possibility that this ideology and the policymaking approach that accompanies it will dominate Congress’s Republican Conferences. 

Beyond this new inclination to legislate, DeSantis’s attack on Disney is indicative of a significant shift away from what the Republican Party has generally stood for in recent decades. Being “pro-business” has been one of the GOP’s signature stances, one that has been conveyed through policy. From cutting tax rates to deregulation, federal-level Republicans have been very friendly towards business interests, particularly those of large corporations. The decision to directly punish Disney for an opinion that Florida Republicans disagree with is a complete reversal of this stance, pulling the party further into right-wing populism. 

Through this move, DeSantis and his ideological allies are sending a clear message: they are willing to use the government’s power as a weapon against dissidents, including big business. This approach to policymaking arguably poses a far greater danger than the “do nothing” approach as it capitalizes off of fear and anger to push legislation that intrudes on the rights of marginalized communities and then attacks and vilifies anyone who opposes said legislation.  

However, one big question emerges: won’t the GOP hurt itself by going after its biggest ally? Republicans are already beginning to lose the fundraising battle against Democrats and losing the support of some of the biggest donors could cost them. Even if Disney is the only direct target, many donors could be reevaluating whether they want to continue to back candidates and officials that could turn on them. 

However, for DeSantis himself, the move against Disney may be smart, even if it’s risky. Last year alone, he raised $67 million for his re-election campaign; in comparison, he raised $60 million total during his 2018 campaign. DeSantis’ strategy of aggressively legislating on culture war issues has turned him into a star within the GOP and has given his campaign a significant boost; this move against Disney could do the same. He’s able to rile up the right-wing populist base and give himself a record of taking on “the elites,” this could boost his support among conservative voters if he sought the Oval Office, but the cost for the rest of his party may be severe. 

DeSantis isn’t alone in this approach. Across the country, state-level Republican officials have backed increasingly aggressive policies that many view as thinly veiled attacks on marginalized communities. Still, this doesn’t seem to have fully made its way to Congress. While there are several members in both chambers who have routinely made reprehensible statements or tried to promote radical policies, their policymaking attempts have largely failed, in part because they still occupy a minority of their party’s seats in Congress and Republican leadership—especially in the Senate—still prefers the “do nothing” route. However, with state-level officials using this approach to policymaking as a way to propel themselves to relevancy at the national level, we are likely seeing what the future of the GOP’s approach to policymaking will be—an approach that will likely be applied at all levels of government.  

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