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DeSantis’ costly crusade: Disney scraps $1 billion Florida project

Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a political war against his own state's largest employer. As Disney scraps a major development project, it's clear he's losing.


When assessing the price tag for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture war, the focus has generally turned to legal costs. After all, the Republican’s right-wing agenda, including the free trips the governor has provided for undocumented immigrants, isn’t cheap.

The Miami Herald reported late last year that DeSantis’ ideological crusade had cost Floridians nearly $17 million in legal fees as 2022 came to an end. The article quoted Bob Jarvis, a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, who marveled at the GOP governor’s willingness to take advantage of “a blank check from the taxpayers.”

But as it turns out, that’s not the only cost associated with DeSantis’ agenda. NBC News reported today:

Disney has abandoned plans to open up a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, amid rising tensions with the state’s governor. Citing “changing business conditions” and the return of CEO Bob Iger, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division, penned a memo to employees Thursday, announcing that the company will not move forward with construction of the campus.

A related New York Times report, citing an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, added that this was a nearly $1 billion development project that would’ve brought “more than 2,000 jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary.”

It didn’t have to be this way.

As regular readers know, the governor last year signed a proposal critics have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” policy, and Disney, a powerhouse in the Sunshine State, eventually criticized the anti-LGBTQ measure.

In a normal political environment, the governor might’ve defended his position and expressed his disagreement with the company, at which point the relevant players would’ve moved on. But in DeSantis Land, there’s nothing especially normal about politics: The far-right governor responded to the modest and inconsequential criticism by picking an ugly and prolonged fight with Disney, in part to punish the corporate giant for daring to disagree with him in public, and in part to send a signal to others that he’d retaliate against anyone who challenges his positions.

But — and this is the important part — he’s the one who’s losing the fight he picked for dumb reasons. Disney has already filed a lawsuit it’s likely to win, thanks in part to DeSantis’ own carelessness and inability to think a few moves ahead. What’s more, many prominent voices in the governor’s own political party have questioned the wisdom of the Floridian taking a position that can fairly be described as “anti-business” ahead of his presidential campaign.

Disney’s year-old press release would’ve been long forgotten by now if DeSantis had shown the good sense to ignore it. Instead, the Republican governor launched a political war against his own state’s largest employer for daring to disagree with him, costing Florida dearly.

Much of the presidency comes down to showing good judgment. DeSantis has practically disqualified himself before even kicking off his national campaign.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.