Disney Versus DeSantis Episode VII — The Empire Strikes Back
How did you spend your weekend? No matter the answer, I’m jealous.
Personally, I got to chase down rumors about the latest volley in what feels like an endless tennis rally between The Walt Disney Company and Ron DeSantis.
Word emerged that DeSantis had developed his next plan after Disney thwarted the Florida governor’s intent with the former Reedy Creek land.
After DeSantis absorbed an online drubbing, his revenge became predictable.
So, here’s what’s happening this week in the dumbest ongoing soap opera in politics, Mickey Mouse versus Ron DeSantis.
Okay, I’ve tried to warn you over the past two weeks that such a move was incoming.
If we rewind 740 Simpsons episodes to the fifth one ever, Bart The General, we can find an analog.
That’s the episode when Bart made Nelson Muntz bleed his own blood:
Folks, Mickey Mouse knocked Ron DeSantis out last month. The governor’s political allies knew it, too.
Disney smiled and said all the right things. Josh D’Amaro released a statement that the company was “focused on the future and…ready to work within this new framework.”
Disney felt that way because it knew something the new board, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), didn’t.
During the final meeting of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, the previous board gave Disney full dominion over the Reedy Creek land.
The board members even introduced a poison pill, the King Charles III clause, to maintain control for 30+ years.
Simply stated, Disney made the DeSantis team appear grotesquely incompetent at the worst possible time.
DeSantis is currently participating in a prolonged “book tour,” which is really his attempt to launch a presidential campaign.
According to polling numbers, DeSantis is slipping at a time he fully expected to arise. Disney embarrassed him in an unforgettable way.
Like Nelson Muntz, DeSantis bled his own blood. He was never going to let that stand.
Otherwise, his political career on the national stage is dead in the water.
The Empire Strikes Back
This past weekend, DeSantis staff members leaked that something was coming. Today, we learned what they meant.
DeSantis and some of Florida’s lawmakers have accused Disney of violating Florida Section 163.3225.
The company held meetings that honored the Sunshine Law for public debate.
According to the DeSantis team, Disney failed to provide a seven-day alert for these public hearings. So, they’re gonna void the whole thing.
Did Disney actually mess up this badly? No. Here’s a Scott Gustin tweet on the matter:
I will just leave this here. Here are the RCID meeting notes from January 25 when the developer’s agreement was first discussed – and the date of the second hearing (Feb 8.) was also discussed. pic.twitter.com/XyUiKZT0vu
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 17, 2023
Here’s the pertinent text: “Mr. Classe requested board approval of a Chapter 163 Developer’s Agreement between RCID and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. consistent with the RCID Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations.”
And here’s the even more vital part: “This is the first of two public hearings required to approve the developer agreement.”
This information legitimately may have sandbagged the CFTOD team again on Monday morning before his live press conference.
Still, Florida’s legislature will move to nullify Disney’s paperwork. In addition, they’re creating paperwork to make Disney rides subject to inspections from state officials.
Also, DeSantis is making idle threats about how Florida could handle the land near Reedy Creek.
DeSantis openly speculating about what the state could build next to Walt Disney World:
“Someone even said, maybe you need another state prison…” pic.twitter.com/dlZ2r2OAqZ
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 17, 2023
During a live speech, DeSantis also indicated that he could tax Disney more for its land, something the government has failed to do in previous attempts.
Aso, the governor threatened to force Disney to repay $1 billion in loans more quickly than the current payment schedule.
These loans are what Florida legislators missed during their earlier attempt to punish Disney.
This entire press conference functioned as an attempt to make Disney as uncomfortable as possible in as many ways as possible.
Why This Approach?
DeSantis formulated a plan as he watched a different real-world event unfold.
Have you heard about the Anheuser-Busch controversy? The gist is that Bud Light ran ads with an influencer who happens to be trans.
This triggered some (former?) Bud Light fans who threatened to boycott. An odd news cycle unfolded wherein some outlets tried to push a narrative.
The argument involved Anheuser-Busch stock losing billions of dollars in valuation.
As is always the case with this stuff, the truth isn’t quite what’s presented. All stock prices remain in flux over time.
I’m writing this on April 17th. On March 17th, the stock sat at $59.96. As I type this, it’s hovering in the $64 range. Yes, it’s up by nearly seven percent in a month.
However, the misleading headlines indicate that the company took a shave due to its ad campaign.
In reality, Anheuser-Busch stock never dropped below $63. It was trending higher than normal when the story broke and then naturally cycled back to a level that is still above recent norms.
Still, the beer company released this statement: “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”
That’s a vague “I’m sorry for…something” PR move. What it reflects is that the story died behind the scenes because Anheuser-Busch is a major political donor.
In that instance, critics were biting the hand that feeds them. With DeSantis/Disney, something different is at play.
The Upcoming News Cycles
DeSantis has taken this approach because he’s hopeful that it’ll lead to multiple waves of negative headlines for Disney.
In such a scenario, we’ll first hear about this attack. Then, the new CFTOD board will meet and launch an aggressive attack on Disney. That’s a given.
Similarly, Florida’s legislature will meet multiple times to find ways to alter laws to add to Disney’s discomfort.
In the interim, if Disney stock drops, DeSantis can claim Disney’s mistakes are costing the company money, just as happened with Anheuser-Busch.
Inside sources have suggested that the Board will announce tight regulations on things Disney has historically overseen, like elevator and monorail maintenance.
That’s absolutely a weird approach. What’s the purpose? DeSantis and his team hope that the mere allegation of impropriety will place Disney on the defensive.
You undoubtedly noticed that Disney CEO Bob Iger has taken an aggressive stance in his DeSantis dealings, describing the governor as “anti-Florida” and “anti-business.”
Notably, DeSantis is wearing those complaints like a badge of honor as he goes harder after Disney. Should he do that?
That’s debatable. Even the Wall Street Journal, a publisher owned by Rupert Murdoch, recently posted an article entitled “The Stupid War Between Disney and DeSantis.”
Florida’s governor isn’t scoring the political points he’d expected here. So, his advisors spent the week organizing their message.
The New Message
The DeSantis office’s next plan involves undermining Disney by suggesting that the Most Magical Place on Earth suffers from safety concerns.
Is that true? Absolutely not.
Disney’s safety standards remain the gold standard in the industry and a source of envy among peers.
However, Disney experienced staffing layoffs during the pandemic. When the company returned to typic staffing levels, some newer hires didn’t know the older practices.
Some minor issues might have slipped through the cracks for a while.
DeSantis only has one friend in all these arguments, and that’s the Reedy Creek Fire Department (RCFD).
Who responds to many Disney incidents? You guessed it! The RCFD provides first response many times, and the person in charge may know some stuff.
If DeSantis can find even one or two improprieties, he can gain the upper hand on Disney once again.
What Happens Next?
Based on today’s events, the next wave of the sustained Reedy Creek battle will involve allegations and aggressive tactics.
You can expect fireworks at the next CFTOD meeting, as that’s the intent here. DeSantis wants to reclaim positive headlines from Disney.
For the past month, the Mouse has made DeSantis look bad at a time when the governor expected exactly the opposite.
DeSantis built his entire presidential campaign around the “new sheriff in town” motif. Now, he’s losing top donors due to his “stance on social issues.”
The governor needs a show of force to prove he…didn’t lose a fight to Mickey Mouse. It’s weird. The whole thing is weird and has been weird for a while.
None of this is going away, either. The entire DeSantis plan revealed today hinges on several impending news cycles of more negative Disney news.
None of these moves disproves anything Iger said about “anti-Florida” and “anti-business tactics.” If anything, the opposite is true.
So, the new DeSantis plan for Disney is an unspoken declaration of all-out war. Buckle up, folks.
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