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There’s a bizarre metamorphosis happening in American politics as culture takes over the conversation: Republican politicians are choosing the war on “wokeness” over the friendliness to big business that was their guiding light for decades.
Florida Republicans are on the cusp of a whirlwind effort to punish Disney for its opposition to a law many consider to be anti-LGBTQ.
Meanwhile, in Texas, the governor is threatening he could use his power once again to slow border traffic with arguably unnecessary safety inspections to make a point about immigration.
These various political statements have consequences for LGBTQ kids, parents and teachers in Florida schools; for people in Orlando who might feel an increased tax burden; and potentially for all the Americans who get food or products that cross the southern border.
Things are also getting personal. The frustrated speech by a Michigan Democrat, state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, about her morals and faith racked up more than 13 million views on Twitter this week.
McMorrow was responding to campaign material from a Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Lana Theis, who accused McMorrow of wanting to “groom and sexualize kindergarteners” and teach “that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery.”
That derogatory and anti-LGBTQ term, “groomers,” is the same one an aide to Gov. Ron DeSantis used to deflect criticism of the law that restricts what can be discussed in Florida schools – which opponents have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”
Anti-woke is working for Republicans. Republicans don’t seem to mind being labeled anti-LGBTQ, and they’re almost inviting the corporate backlash, relishing the chance to look like fighters.
At the behest of DeSantis, Florida’s legislature took less than a week to push through a bill to remove the special government status Disney had enjoyed around Walt Disney World.
The lawmakers ignored concerns that the move could raise taxes on voters in Orlando as Disney cedes local government roles – road maintenance and emergency dispatching, among others – that the company has performed for itself for more than 50 years.
Just a guest in Florida. Disney is synonymous with both family entertainment and Florida to many Americans, but the state’s Republicans are disavowing it.
“They are a California company that is a guest in the state of Florida,” state Rep. Randy Fine said on CNN on Wednesday night before the vote. “And they are a guest that has had special privileges that no other company has had. If you want special privileges, you’d better be on your best behavior.”
Many Republicans in the state say the issue will be resolved before the bill would take hold in 2023. But the message to Disney has been sent: Hush up about the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Turnarounds. The rift between Florida’s Republicans and the Magic Kingdom has been brewing for weeks. Disney was initially slow to criticize the law that critics worry will bar teachers from using words like “gay” in elementary schools. After Disney employees walked out in protest, CEO Bob Chapek criticized the legislation.
Today’s divide between Florida and Disney is certainly a turnaround from late last year, when the company announced it would move employees from California to Florida because of a more “business-friendly climate.”
Other fights with industry. DeSantis previously picked fights with the cruise ship industry during the pandemic.
And Florida isn’t the only state that doesn’t mind tripping up businesses to make political statements.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott created a costly traffic jam of trucks at the Texas border with stepped-up safety inspections earlier in April. He wanted to protest the Biden administration’s plan to end Covid-19 restrictions that barred most migrants at the border.
He’s also busing migrants to Washington, DC, and he teased he could send buses to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. Abbott doesn’t want to see a likely flood of migrants. But his move further kinked the supply chain and caused food headed north to spoil in transit. The entire statement cost billions of dollars.
“I have the capability – at any time – to turn those inspections back on. That will backlog those trucks that are trying to come across the border. That will cause havoc in Mexico,” Abbott told Sean Hannity on Fox on April 19, warning Mexico’s government to slow the flow of migrants through the country to the US border.
Political payoff. Far from paying a political price for targeting Disney, DeSantis’ strategy is paying off, according to CNN’s Harry Enten.
“He’s gotten more popular,” Enten said Wednesday. “This is why he does it. It works for him.”
Enten pointed to an increase in DeSantis’ approval rating, which has risen by 6 percentage points since August and is now over 50%, which is helping his chances at reelection in November: “This is the thing that I think we always sort of don’t keep in mind with Ron DeSantis. He’s a good politician.”
Abbott is also facing reelection in November. After that, both men could conceivably be running in a presidential primary against former President Donald Trump. It could be a melee.