Editorial: In Trump vs. DeSantis in Iowa, Disney is the punching bag. So much for serious debate

Tribune Content Agency

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis packed up his petty fight with Disney and took it on the road this week, heading to Iowa as he launched his campaign for the GOP nomination for president.

At Eternity Church in Clive, Iowa, on Tuesday, he trotted out the anti-woke rhetoric so familiar to all of us in Florida, calling Disney an “800-pound gorilla” that he was warned would steamroll him if he dared to take it on.

“Well, here I stand,” he told the crowd, which reportedly gave him a standing ovation for talking about trying to “protect children’s innocence.”

But former President Donald Trump, DeSantis’ old mentor, wasn’t about to cede the low ground of anti-Disney sentiment to the Florida governor. On social media, Trump called Disney a “Woke and Disgusting shadow of its former self, with people actually hating it,” adding that the governorship of “Rob DeSanctimonious” was to blame.

Here we go again.

In the irrelevant and time-wasting race to out-hate Disney in the Republican primary, DeSantis and Trump are neck and neck. And the rest of us mere voters are losers.

This is well-worn culture-war stuff for Floridians, of course. Perhaps it’s new and interesting to Iowans. Or perhaps they don’t care about something that is silly, personal, performative and has no bearing on serious issues. Things that desperately need addressing, like flooding. Or the cost of living. Or roads and bridges. Or the cost of healthcare.

A lot less exciting than declaring war on the Magic Kingdom, sure, but kitchen-table issues that need addressing nonetheless.

As Dave Peterson, a political scientist at Iowa State University, told the Orlando Sentinel, culture wars are one thing but broadside attacks on Disney may be too much: “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.”

The DeSantis-Disney spat started when the entertainment company fought back against DeSantis’ “Don’t say gay” law — the Parental Rights in Education Act — that bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. The fight escalated with the state’s takeover of Disney’s governing body, followed by a court fight that continues today. And things got worse: Disney announced it was canceling plans for a $1 billion project in Lake Nona, Florida, where it would have employed roughly 2,000 people.

It’s all part of DeSantis’ favorite theme, the war on woke, which he has flogged endlessly in Florida, all the way to what was supposed to be a triumphant unveiling of his presidential candidacy on Twitter last week.

That didn’t go so well, of course. Now he still seems to be betting on the Disney fight to shore up his popularity. Polls have generally showed Trump far ahead of DeSantis on that score, though it is very early in the 2024 campaign.

But the horse race aspect of politics shouldn’t be the focus. Voters need candidates who address real issues, not concocted ones. By making Disney the punching bag, the GOP primary is off to a bad start.