Ron DeSantis’ Bizarre Feud With Disney, Explained

DesantisDisneyTimeline DesantisDisneyTimeline.jpg - Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images; AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
DesantisDisneyTimeline DesantisDisneyTimeline.jpg - Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images; AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Ron DeSantis is running for president, and though the Florida governor is looking to bring his culture war obsession to the rest of the country, he’s already demonstrated shaky political instincts through his ever-escalating, ever-embarrassing feud with Disney.

DeSantis’ crusade against the Magic Kingdom has drawn mockery from his 2024 rivals and criticism from seasoned veterans of his party. Not only is DeSantis’ targeting of Disney viewed as a violation of conservative’s cardinal rule (Be Nice To Corporations), but what better way to alienate normie voters than maligning an emblem of American nostalgia and cultural capital as perverts looking to sexualize children?

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Why exactly is DeSantis so mad at the happiest place on Earth? Why does he harbor so much animosity toward the place where he married Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis in 2009? Why, in an interview with Fox News the night he announced his 2024 candidacy, did he allege– absurdly –that Disney has “has gone down the road of wanting to put sexualization into children’s programming”?

Here’s everything you need to know about the dumbest vendetta in politics:

Why are Ron DeSantis and Disney fighting? 

In January of last year, the Florida state legislature introduced the Parental Rights in Education Act, a key plant of DeSantis’ “parental rights agenda.” The legislation, which opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, barred classroom instruction on gender and sexuality before the fourth grade, or if the instruction given was deemed inappropriate at any grade. Supporters of the bill accused critics of endorsing child abuse and “grooming” children for sex.

As the bill worked its way through the Florida legislature, Disney’s now-former CEO Bob Chapek faced mounting pressure from employees and Disney fans to disavow the legislation. On March 9 of last year, he did just that, leading DeSantis to accuse the company of being  a “woke” corporation, “lining their pockets with their relationship with the Communist Party of China.” A few days later, DeSantis appeared on Fox News and claimed Disney ​​supported “sexualizing kids in kindergarten.”

DeSantis has been trying to punish Disney, the state’s largest taxpayer, ever since.

How is Ron DeSantis trying to hurt Disney?

In order to punish Disney, DeSantis called upon the legislature to strip Disney of its ability self-govern the land occupied by Disney World. The Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which was established in 1967 during the planning of the Florida theme park, granted Disney special tax status, and allowed the company to oversee utilities and public services in the park and its surrounding area. “If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis signed the bill revoking Disney’s control of the RCID in April of last year, but Disney argued that it couldn’t be dissolved until the state pays out about $1 billion of the district’s outstanding bond debt. DeSantis called a special legislative session this February to finalize the government’s takeover of the RCID. The legislature ultimately decided to let Disney keep its special tax district, but gave DeSantis power to appoint the board that governs it. He stocked it with right-wing loyalists, including a man who has claimed chemicals in tap water are turning people gay.

How is Disney responding to Ron DeSantis’ attempts to punish the company?

Before Disney lost control of the RCID board, the outgoing board crafted a secret agreement that transferred a significant amount of control from the board back to the company. When DeSantis’ new board finally realized they were duped by their ousted predecessors, they threatened legal action against Disney. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure,” said board member Ron Peri (the gay tap water guy).

The disputed deal included a crafty “King Charles Clause” which maintains Disney’s arrangement “until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, living as of the date of this declaration.” The governor instructed the state legislature to nullify the deal, while threatening to build a state prison next to Disney World. DeSantis’ RDIC board eventually approved a resolution voiding the agreement between its predecessors and Disney. Hours later, Disney sued DeSantis.

Why is Disney suing Ron DeSantis? 

Disney has argued that DeSantis violated its First Amendment rights because his decision to strip Disney of its special tax status was punitive retaliation for their opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.

“There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so,” the lawsuit reads. “State leaders have not been subtle about their reasons for government intervention. They have proudly declared that Disney deserves this fate because of what Disney said.”

How are Ron DeSantis’ opponents responding to his feud with Disney?

DeSantis has been widely mocked for going after Disney, including by Donald Trump. “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” the former president wrote on Truth Social, adding that “Disney’s next move will be the announcement that no more money will be invested in Florida because of the Governor.”

Nikki Haley also trolled DeSantis by telling Fox News that her home state of South Carolina would be happy to welcome the “hundreds of thousands of jobs” and “billions of dollars” if the company were to move out of Florida.

Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the feud during an investor call in early May. “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?” he asked. A few days later, Disney canceled plans for $1 billion project to build a new corporate campus in Orlando, which would have reportedly brought more than 2,000 jobs to the area, citing “changing business conditions” in the state. “We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years. I hope we’re able to do so.” said Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s parks chief.

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