LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has heard plenty of warnings from donors, supporters and consultants that he’s a fool for taking on Disney. People love Disney World. Waging this public fight is bad for Florida’s economy. Politics is even worse, they say.
But the Republicans who would make up the voter base in a presidential primary may see it differently. NBC News interviewed nearly three dozen likely voters, strategists and pollsters, and found a picture of a primary electorate skeptical of Disney and supporting DeSantis by calling out the corporate giant.
That finding is bolstered by three polls showing support for DeSantis over Disney among Republicans, though DeSantis is taking a far greater risk once Democrats and independents step in.
As he enters his battle with Mickey Mouse, DeSantis has his eye on the conservative voters he will need to win over if he decides to run in the 2024 presidential race.
However, while there potential for GOP support, donor dissatisfaction exposes real political risk to governor if donors turn off the spigot in a heated primary battle.
“I think the people who say this is a problem that is going to cost you and is ruining your chances are just not right,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory. . , who conducted one of the surveys that showed DeSantis with much higher approval than Disney among Republicans.
Binder pointed to long-standing tensions between Floridians and Disney, noting that if DeSantis is going to run in a presidential primary, he’s going to have to make some noise.
“You can’t get to general unless you get past the primary,” he said. “And Donald Trump takes up a lot of space.”
‘Go wake up, go broke’
DeSantis has been at war with Disney for more than a year, when then-CEO Bob Chapek issued a statement opposing DeSantis-backed legislation banning discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms. from kindergarten to third grade.
Since then, DeSantis has brought together a local governing board that oversees Disney with his supporters, Disney has sued DeSantis, and the local board has voted to sue Disney. Disney CEO Bob Iger said his company is under attack, calling DeSantis’ actions «anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”
The nearly two dozen Floridians who spoke to NBC News in Villages, the world’s largest retirement community that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, and in Lake County, a conservative stronghold about 40 miles from Walt Disney World , expressed broad support for DeSantis. ‘ battle.
“I am definitely on DeSantis’s side. Go wake up, go broke,” said Mikey Young, a Lake County voter who was upset by the direction Disney had taken for his company. “It is absolutely ridiculous what they are doing. And they are trying to infiltrate children.”
“I think she’s waking up a little bit,” said Deborah Folckemer, also from Lake County. “I think that’s what has changed. It’s not the old Disney.»
Rosemary Sikucinski said she and her husband decided not to renew their annual passes to Disney World after Chapek’s comments.
“They’ve gotten too liberal,” said Sikucinski, a Villages resident. At the same time, Sikucinski said that while DeSantis may be right that Disney gets favorable treatment, his ruthlessness «certainly gives the perception that he’s being very vindictive of that corporation.»
Another resident, Laurie Goddard, also sided with DeSantis.
“I agree with what he says. I think she is doing the right thing.»
Polls confirm that many conservatives are not on Disney’s side.
TO University of North Florida The March poll showed that both Ron DeSantis and Disney had an overall preference of 50% and 52%, respectively, among all respondents. Among Republicans, however, DeSantis’s favorability shot up to 87% and Disney’s dropped to 27%.
A Ipsos/Reuters poll in late April found that 64% of those polled believed DeSantis was punishing Disney for free speech. But again, responses were split along party lines, with independents and Democrats siding with Disney. Among the Republicans surveyed, 64% said DeSantis was legitimately reversing the special treatment for the company.
and in a Harvard CAPS Harris Survey in mid-April, 54% of those polled said they supported DeSantis’s actions to «limit Disney’s autonomy in Florida by appointing an oversight board and threatening to remove its special tax status.» Support was 73% among Republicans.
Republicans in other parts of the country said voters in the Republican primary yearned for a candidate who would shake the pot and take on the left.
“The Republican base wants to see a fighter,” said Matt Salmon, a former Arizona congressman and state party chairman. Salmon said he believes that Republicans don’t view the Disney brand in the same light as before. «The Republican base fondly says that Disney is the epitome of the awakening agenda.»
Kevin Hermening, chairman of the Republican party in Wisconsin’s Marathon County, who recently hosted DeSantis at a Lincoln Day dinner, said he supports the governor’s point of view, but doesn’t view it in the light of a culture war.
«I’m a businessman…I’ve never liked it when certain companies get special treatment compared to their competition,» Hermening said.
But in some areas, the DeSantis-Disney war barely registers on the radar, and veteran Republicans doubt it will be a factor in the election.
“It’s a land fight, and nobody knows what the hell it’s about,” said Brandon Scholz, former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party. “It’s really into baseball. Who really understands what this is, except a bunch of insiders?
Amy Tarkanian, former chair of the Nevada state Republican party, echoed the sentiment.
“No one mentions it. Of all the potential problems out there. It’s not even whispered,» said Tarkanian, who has yet to endorse any candidate in the primary. “If you’re talking about Disney, your average voter will say, ‘It’s too expensive to take my family of four,’ they won’t say, ‘Oh, Governor Ron DeSantis, what are you doing? ‘”
Skepticism from influential Republicans
Inside DeSantis’ world, there is division over the governor’s battle, and some aides want it to go ahead, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. But DeSantis’ strategy, as of now, is to stay the course.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis is putting Florida first. As his landslide re-election victory demonstrates, the people of Florida overwhelmingly support his courage to stand up and wake up corporations, like Disney,” said Erin Perrine, spokeswoman for the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC. «He will win this fight, continue to stand up to wake up the corporations and always put the people who elected him into office first.»
DeSantis has received criticism from inside and outside his political universe, including from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the senator marco rubio Florida Triumph stated that DeSantis it had been «absolutely destroyed» by Disney. Nikki Haley, former UN ambassador and Republican primary candidate mocked DeSantis and invited the entertainment giant to bring its tens of thousands of jobs to South Carolina.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board warned that DeSantis «is escalation of a dispute with a business that risks alienating moderate and independent voters who otherwise support Florida’s sex education law and its good policies, such as expanding school choice.” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Member of the newspaper’s editorial board, wrote a separate column titled, «The stupid war between Disney and DeSantis.»
The protracted battle has left some in the giving world uneasy just as high rollers are deciding who to place their allegiance with. Ron Gidwitz, a top Republican fundraiser who also served as finance chairman for the Republican Senatorial National Committee, complained to NBC News about DeSantis’ «folly» in his war with one of the world’s most recognizable brands.
«How do you get into a fight with Mickey Mouse?» he asked her.
But Salmon sees it differently: “Mickey Mouse was where that company was 50 years ago, 60 years ago. Not now.»