DeSantis’ calculated move to turn Disney’s blame game into a presidential platform

by | May 21, 2023

Last week, Walt Disney Company announced the decision to cancel a $1 billion investment in Lake Nona, Florida, and scrub relocation plans for 2,000 employees who were slated to work there. Disney’s announcement of the decision was masterful. They pointed the bony finger of blame at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and then did a “mic drop,” knowing that their vast media echo-chamber would amplify the voices of DeSantis’s natural political opponents. Their goal: get people to ignore the company’s ongoing business struggles to focus instead on the rhetorical stick-in-the-eye delivered to DeSantis.

Some think it worked, and that it serves DeSantis right to get blamed for Disney’s decision.

But let’s not get too hasty. It’s worth noting that most of Disney’s woes are their own doing, and have nothing to do with DeSantis or Florida Republicans. Over the last two years, the company launched a trio of major box office bombs that lost around $311 million (Strange World, Amsterdam and Lightyear), while at the same time, Disney lost $2.1 billion on its combined streaming platforms at Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu. The compounding problems had already created such a financial pinch at Disney that last fall, then-CEO Bob Chapek announced the company was laying off up to 7,000 employees, initiating a hiring freeze, and looking for other ways to cut costs.

At the time the layoff announcement was made, Chapek made no mention of his company’s skirmish with Florida over their special district status.

Fast forward to this year: just two weeks ago, the company’s stock plummeted 9 percent after news broke that Disney+ lost 4 million subscribers and another $400 million in just the first quarter of the year. They also announced that their Star Wars: Starcruiser hotel will be closed only 18 months after it was launched.

Taken together, it appears that Disney has lost its magic, and that isn’t Ron DeSantis’s fault. The fact is that the once-admired company’s financial struggles are real and they exist independently of DeSantis’s policies in Florida.

That said, before anyone feels sorry for DeSantis being unfairly branded as the scapegoat for Disney, they shouldn’t. For the last two years, he’s been angling for just this sort of political scrum over his policy stances. It finally arrived in earnest on Thursday, when the proverbial chickens came home to roost. Given the political environment, even the most casual observer could have predicted that Disney would blame their business woes on DeSantis and Florida Republicans.

Just as obvious is the fact that no business leader in a company facing financial hardship, while simultaneously getting kicked in the face by a state governor, is going to continue making substantial investments in that state.

DeSantis would have undoubtedly preferred to have Disney’s Lake Nona campus and 2,000 more jobs in Florida. But it’s a political price he’s willing to pay because it gives him a platform upon which to make his case for the GOP nomination for president – an endeavor that he’s expected to embark upon as early as this week.

The fight with Disney is exactly the sort of thing that helps DeSantis stand out from other GOP presidential hopefuls – including former President Donald Trump – and gives him a platform upon which he can talk about Florida’s business climate, while brushing off the anti-business criticisms by pointing out they are generally isolated to Disney.

Consider the fact that few other presidential contenders can rattle off the business wins like DeSantis. Florida has consistently ranked at the top of virtually every measure of business climate friendliness:

That last point is worth a deeper dive: even when factoring in the Disney dustup, business leaders still say Florida is one of the best states for business.

Also, as the Disney-DeSantis saga unfolds, other significant business investments in Florida continue unabated. BlackRock, the world’s largest money management company, and a previous target of Republican criticism for its ESG investing strategies, is opening an office in South Florida. Additionally, BlackRock is assisting AT&T with a “super-fast” fiber-optic rollout in Florida, one of just five states chosen in the early phase of the project.

The bottom line is that DeSantis has more than enough ammunition to counter the narrative that he’s “anti-business.” He appears to be very much “anti-Disney,” and new (old) CEO Bob Iger has every right to pull the plug on the company’s plans to move employees to Florida based on how Iger perceives his company’s been treated.

But the underlying reasons for Disney’s cancellation of the Lake Nona project has far more to do with Disney’s own internal problems than anything DeSantis did. The very public fight just gave Disney an easy excuse upon which to blame their troubles.

For DeSantis, being a pro-business candidate is important. But being the lone anti-Disney voice in a GOP primary is a political gold mine. Whether or not Desantis can overcome the Disney PR machine and the attacks that will be leveled against him by other GOP contenders in the coming months remains to be seen. It’ll be up to DeSantis to defend himself, and in the process, make the case for Florida.

It’s exactly the battle he asked for.


  1. Stan

    True enough but when cruise companies wanted to give most of their customers what they wanted during the unknowns of the pandemic, namely cruises of only vaccinated people, he crushed those companies with swiftly adopted rules and crushing penalties. The same with special olympics. So, if a company or industry crosses one of his political boundaries, he will quickly take the opportunity to have a new bad guy and console his put upon followers.

  2. John

    The only thing he has proven is he is a petty thug. He has no temperament for Foreign or National policy.

  3. John

    DeSantis is a thin skinned vindictive person who is ready to pounce on anyone who crosses him. He is bad for business in Florida and his national aspirations are the same as his “tear It all down” brethren in Washington DC.

  4. Deborah Coffey

    I had always thought Ron DeSantis was really smart. He’s not, and now he’s finished. There will be no more political career for him. He won’t even win the primaries.

  5. Anonymous

    If Desantis wanted to help the people of Florida he would be going after the insurance companies not Disney. He rakes in the money from big Wall St. donors while selling out Floridians. He’s an awful governor.

  6. dmmorrison

    First, Disney currently has two movies high on the box office charts, and each has grossed nearly half a billion dollars. Second, nearly all the nice rankings ffor Florida listed above came BEFORE the recent dustup over Disney. Sorry, DeSantis is making a big mistake, and we Floridians are going to pay for it.

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