Throughout the past 50 years in Florida election history, political candidates on both sides of the aisle have courted the support of Disney, and for good reason. Not only is Walt Disney World known as the happiest place on earth, it’s also one of the state’s largest employers. Tourism is the king cash cow in the Sunshine State, and up until 2022, Republicans and Democrats alike enjoyed major political donations from the corporation. When Florida’s current governor Ron DeSantis announced that the state would be halting special district status for Disney’s Reedy Creek, it ended what was viewed by many Floridians as a mutually beneficial relationship between the state and the globally-adored resort.
National media pounced on the story and armchair quarterbacks online jumped to the defense of Disney, assuming the perspective was shared by the bulk of Floridians. While it’s true that residents of Orange and Osceola County view Disney favorably, voters outside of the region likely won’t care if two counties see dramatic increases, because they reside elsewhere. DeSantis knows that his support in suburban and rural Florida is extremely strong, and his highest opposition resides in the urban areas, particularly Orlando, which went blue the past two gubernatorial elections, including 25% fewer votes than Andrew Gillum in 2018, despite the fact the Gillum was one of the least-known candidates in multiple decades.
More recently, Donald Trump, who considers DeSantis a protege, lost by 23% to Joe Biden in Orange County during the 2020 election. State Representatives and county managers have warned that Orange County may be forced to raise property taxes in order to compensate for the state dissolving Reedy Creek, but such a decision won’t arrive until 2023, when the state legislation will officially decide if the state’s special district contract for Reedy Creek is officially restructured or terminated.
DeSantis knows the value of voter enthusiasm, which is undeniably stronger for him going into 2022 than in 2018, when he had a bitter primary campaign against the original favorite, Adam Putnam. DeSantis’ fierce opposition to Biden’s COVID mandates thrusted him into the national spotlight and energized the conservative base, which should come out in even higher numbers to support his re-election. The key question will be if the additional support outside of central Florida will be enough to compensate for the loss of independent votes he will lose from Orange County and Osceola county voters who are upset about potentially paying 25% higher property taxes. Judging from DeSantis’ signing of the 15-week limit on abortion and his response to Disney’s public condemnation of the Parental Notification Bill (The bill mislabeled as Don’t Say Gay), he is counting on two social conservatives showing up at the poll for ever social liberal who otherwise would have abstained from voting in a mid-term election.
DeSantis has consistently polled second only to Trump in unofficial and hypothetical 2024 Republican Primary polls, but his recent actions versus Disney should’t be reduced to just petty bickering in response to Disney’s condemnation of an education bill (Which was misnomered as the ‘Don’t say gay bill’, despite the fact that the bill doesn’t even mention homosexuality and merely forbids kindergarten through third-grade teachers from formal teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.) Assuming their is validity to the widespread speculation that DeSantis will be entering the 2024 GOP Primary, there’s little doubt that he intentionally seized the opportunity to gain traction among social conservatives, who will be a critical component for any candidate hoping to defeat Trump or any other Republican. Trump’s strongest core of support consisted of voters focused first and foremost on domestic policy and economics more than family values and social conservative values.
Wall Street Journal’s poll on 15-week abortion ban showed that most American’s agree with the 15-week ban, but oppose further restrictions, which means that even if Roe vs Wade is overturned, DeSantis can point to the data from polls such as WSJ’s that show his position represented the majority, not the minority of voters.
Another key factor to consider is that DeSantis’ camp likely realizes that Trump will continue to be reluctant to downplay or degrade any of DeSantis actions due to the heavy support DeSantis enjoys in his own state, and if Trump wants to have any shot of winning the general election in 2024, he can’t afford to lose even as little as 10% of Republican supporters who may penalize Trump should he publicly criticize DeSantis.