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DeSantis' Disney fail is a reality check. Authoritarianism is hard.

Newly revealed reporting suggests Disney found a way to undermine a right-wing board DeSantis installed to punish the company.


Authoritarianism is harder than it looks. 

That’s the lesson Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis should take from his attempt to punish Disney for its opposition to a bigoted law banning classroom references to LGBTQ people. 

Last year, DeSantis urged Republicans in the state Legislature to strip Disney of its special district status in Orlando after the company came out against what critics have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law. DeSantis' anti-Disney crusade may have garnered him praise in conservative circles, but the plan largely unraveled and he was ultimately forced to settle for a compromise punishment.

New reporting suggests Disney and Florida officials found a way to effectively neuter even this plan — before it could be fully implemented.

But now, new reporting suggests Disney and Florida officials found a way to effectively neuter even this plan — before it could be fully implemented.

Rather than strip Disney of its special status outright, state legislators in February passed a law creating a new board, with members hand-picked by DeSantis. The board oversees the special district formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, that allowed Walt Disney World to make its own planning and zoning decisions. Predictably, DeSantis loaded the board with people like this conspiracy theorist, who reportedly claimed that estrogen water contamination could be turning people gay.

The new board was still a bad setup for Disney, but allowing the company to keep its special district status at all was a retreat of sorts from DeSantis’ initial, illiberal position.

But a newly revealed document shows outgoing board members declared in February that Disney must retain its influence over any future changes to properties in its special district.

As NBC News reported:

The Feb. 8 document, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, grants Disney “prior review and comment” over any changes made to properties in the district, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District and now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

That document also states that the declaration shall be enforceable “in perpetuity” or, if that is deemed unenforceable, “until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendants of King Charles III, King of England.”

Read the full document here.

Take a moment to appreciate the hilarity of Mickey Mouse and friends thwarting the governor's big plan. Growing up, some stores in my neck of the woods would sell T-shirts depicting Mickey Mouse as a gangster, and I always wondered what possible use they could serve. 

I think we’ve found the perfect occasion. 

I want you to imagine the very moment it was revealed to Ron DeSantis that Disney had run an end-around on him: "It’s the mouse. They got us!"

I suspect the governor looked something like this:

As NBC News noted, current board members have all but vowed a legal challenge to the agreement. And given Republicans’ success cramming the judicial branch with partisan hacks, it could ultimately be overturned or dialed back. 

But Wednesday’s news has DeSantis looking politically impotent at a time when he’s trying to project strength and savvy ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run. And if he's facing this kind of pushback in his own state, just imagine the trouble he could face trying to bend entire branches of the U.S. government to his will as president.

Ironically, it took a media company known for magically fictitious stories to hit the governor with perhaps his biggest dose of reality yet.