In the good old days, we sought a level playing field in our democracy. This meant candidates made their case to the voters and did their best to get supporters out to vote. Elections were hard fought and often nasty, but the person who could get the most votes won.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t think this will work for him. He seems to need the power of Florida’s government to help him advance his political career.
That is the story of his battle with Walt Disney Co. Florida arguably has been overly generous in its subsidies to Disney, most notably ceding control over a chunk of the state’s territory to Disney. People who live in the area near Florida’s Disney World don’t vote for city or county officials. Their community is governed by Disney.
This is an arrangement that dates back more than 50 years. Florida never should have offered this sort of concession to attract Disney. Arguably, it should be looking to take it back now.
But that is not the issue here. DeSantis has made it clear that he is not going after Disney because he thinks the state has been too generous with the company. He is going after Disney because it publicly disagrees with his politics.
DeSantis is saying that he has the right to use the power of Florida’s government to attack Disney for political reasons. And the issue is not just Disney.
By attacking Disney, one of the most influential companies in the country, DeSantis is sending a warning. He is prepared to use the power of the state’s government against any company or individual that might oppose his political ambitions. Apparently, DeSantis is worried about his prospects in fair elections. He feels he needs the power of the government at his back to move ahead in politics.
Unfortunately, DeSantis is not the only prominent Republican with this strategy. When he was president, Donald Trump repeatedly used the power of the government to punish his political enemies.
The most visible case probably was when Trump had the Pentagon review a major contract that would be awarded to Amazon’s web services division to handle its cloud computing. Trump was upset at his coverage in the Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who was then Amazon’s CEO and largest stockholder.
As a result of Trump’s intervention, the contract was delayed for several years. It was eventually awarded to a consortium that included Amazon and several of its competitors. To be clear, legitimate questions were raised about Amazon’s dealings with the Pentagon. Military contracting is not a pretty process.
But Trump was not worried about the cleanliness of the contracting process. He wanted to punish a perceived enemy.
The other significant instance where Trump used the government’s power to punish a perceived enemy was when he had the Justice Department intervene to try to block AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner. Time Warner owns CNN. Trump was unhappy with CNN’s coverage of his campaign and presidency, so he saw the proposed merger as an opportunity to punish its parent company. He wanted Time Warner to eliminate CNN as a condition for allowing the merger. (The Justice Department lost the suit, and the merger went through.)
As with DeSantis and Disney, the issues go well beyond these specific conflicts and companies. DeSantis and Trump were trying to tell companies that severe economic consequences would befall them if they did not toe their political line.
Companies care, first and foremost, about making money. If they think their bottom line will suffer if they don’t obey the wishes of powerful Republican officeholders, they will try to adjust to make them happy.
That is not the way democracy is supposed to work. But Republicans have trouble even saying the word “democratic.” So look to much more cheating from Republicans such as DeSantis and Trump. They cannot compete on a level playing field. They need help.