DeSantis, Trump spar over who hates Disney more as Iowa swing begins

Tribune Content Agency

Gov. Ron DeSantis kicked off his presidential campaign in Iowa Tuesday after a weekend in which he said Iowans agree with him on Disney, bashed the debt ceiling deal to avoid default and he began to go after Donald Trump by name.

But Trump fired right back, calling Disney “a Woke and Disgusting shadow of its former self, with people actually hating it.”

Dave Peterson, a political scientist at Iowa State University, said Disney is not what Iowa voters want to hear about.

“I think the generic culture war stuff plays fine,” Peterson said. “The sort of really-in-the-weeds specifics in picking a fight with Disney, in particular, is a little over the top, even for a lot of Iowa Republicans.”

DeSantis will appear at a church event in Des Moines before hitting four more Iowa cities on Wednesday. He is also planning visits to the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina later this week.

DeSantis seeks to bounce back from a poorly received announcement last week on Twitter, which suffered repeated glitches and got bogged down in arcane policy discussions and online shorthand.

On Fox News on Monday, DeSantis said, “There may be some differences with me and Donald Trump, and I think that those differences redound to my benefit in a place like Iowa.”

DeSantis gave as an example his battle with The Walt Disney Co. over the state’s takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney World’s quasi-government. A federal lawsuit filed by Disney claims the company was unfairly targeted because its former CEO criticized the controversial “don’t say gay” law that bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

DeSantis claimed Trump has “taken the side of Disney in our fight down here in Florida. … I’m standing for parents. I’m standing for children. And I think a multi-billion dollar company that sexualizes children is not consistent with the values of Florida or the values of a place like Iowa.”

The claim that Disney “sexualizes children” has long been a talking point for DeSantis, who wrote in his book that “Disney had clearly crossed a line in its support of indoctrinating very young schoolchildren in woke gender identity politics.”

Trump, who as recently as two weeks ago had been critical of DeSantis for being “absolutely destroyed by Disney” and predicted the company would stop investing in Florida, immediately pivoted to denying he was taking Disney’s side.

“Ron DeSanctimonious just stated, without correction on Fox & Friends, that I was ‘backing’ Disney,” Trump wrote on his social media site. “Wrong!”

He cited a post several hours before DeSantis’ comments in which he attacked Disney.

But, Trump added, “This all happened during the Governorship of ‘Rob’ DeSanctimonious. Instead of complaining now, for publicity reasons only, he should have stopped it long ago. Would have been easy to do – Still is!”

DeSantis also indirectly hit Trump by meeting with 9/11 families who had criticized the former president for his investment in the Saudi-owned LIV Golf tournament.

DeSantis didn’t stop there during his Fox News appearance. “I will serve two terms, and I will be able to destroy leftism in this country,” he said.

He called the debt limit deal reached by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden “totally inadequate” and contended it would send the country “careening toward bankruptcy.”

Raising the debt limit is not new spending. It allows the federal government to pay its existing debts and avoid what could be a catastrophic default that could lead to higher interest rates and recession.

U.S. Rep. Rusty Johnson, R-S.D., who supports the debt ceiling deal, reminded viewers on the conservative network NewsNation that DeSantis voted in favor of debt ceiling hikes while in Congress.

“It’s said that you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose. Man alive, are those comments proof of that,” Johnson said. “… I know those guys. They should have the flexibility to change their minds. But they should be honest with the voters, that when they’ve been here in the past they’ve raised the debt ceiling.”

DeSantis comes to Iowa as he faces a widening gap against Trump in the polls in that state as well as across the country.

Trump had a 62% to 20% lead over DeSantis in Iowa in an Emerson College poll released before his announcement last week. Trump will visit Iowa himself shortly after DeSantis leaves, though the governor was set to return on Saturday for U.S. Sen. Jodi Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” event, Politico reported.

DeSantis has been criticized for his seeming avoidance of such routine retail politicking. But Peterson said that kind of old-school glad-handing is overblown.

“It’s a skill,” Peterson said. “And when you practice, you get better at skills.”

He said DeSantis isn’t even really below average among all the candidates he’s seen swing through Iowa in the past.

“None of these people are great at seeming super personable, and I don’t think that’s what matters,” he said. “But being there, answering questions, giving a little spiel, giving your case for the candidacy, answering questions? If he can do that, then I think he’ll be fine.”