Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference before signing five state house bills into law at Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, Florida, United States, May 17 2023.
octavio jones | Reuters
Many Republicans are divided over the battle between disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and amid a broader “demonization” of business, some conservatives worry about an abandonment of a key pro-business element in recent GOP history.
Count former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr among the top Republicans who don’t like the idea of using sovereign power to punish a corporation, but in the ongoing battle between DeSantis and Disney CEO Bob Iger, Barr is firmly on the side of the governor.
“On this one, though, I’m actually supporting DeSantis,” Barr told CNBC’s David Faber at CNBC’s Council of CEOs summit this week in Santa Barbara, Calif. “For me, what’s important here is that Disney had special privileges,” Barr said, adding that Disney should be “treated like everyone else.”
Disney sued the state in federal court, accusing DeSantis of a campaign of political retaliation against the company after the governor signed legislation voiding Disney’s development deals in Orlando.
“Disney’s intervention here was very unfair, and flattered and played up a narrative of its political opponents,” Barr said.
On the underlying problem — which began after Disney publicly criticized Florida’s GOP-backed bill limiting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms — Barr says that DeSantis supported a “reasonable policy” regarding the appropriate age to discuss such matters.
“Obviously the motivation was deeper than that, but I don’t mind that,” he added.
Former United States Attorney General William Barr speaks to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Joe Cavaretta | Tribune News Service | Getty Images
Some commercial interests will not take sides in the fight; some major donors are pouring more money into the Florida Governor’s coffers. Barr — who is now aligned with a conservative lobby planning to attack many of the Biden administration’s regulatory policies — said he’s not worried about any friction in DeSantis’ relationship with the business world because of the Disney problem. “If business people prefer the Biden administration to DeSantis, I don’t think they will be affected by this issue one way or another,” he said.
The two-time attorney general – who has also served in the corporate sector as general counsel in the telecommunications space – said his views on DeSantis and Disney don’t change his belief that business leaders are more important for the future success of the United States than many politicians.
“Big corporations have to clean up their own act, but when it comes to the GOP, the message I deliver all the time is that no matter what we think of politics, ultimately the GOP’s vision is at heart of strong economic growth and technological supremacy of the United States, and who is going to ensure this? Barr said. “It’s not the people who sit in Congress, not the bureaucrats. American companies will beat China, not the chairman of the congressional committee.”
Separately, Nike CEO John Donahoe voiced his support for Disney’s stance and the company’s adherence to “core values” during CNBC’s CEO Council summit. “I think Bob is doing a great job in this area,” Donahoe said of Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Barr, who voiced his support for DeSantis already a year ago when the governor quickly kicked off an early ballot that has since faded, said he was ready to back “any Republican who can beat Trump, and I think we have a good group announcing.”
DeSantis is expected to officially announce his campaign in a Twitter space with Elon Musk on Wednesday, while South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott entered the race with the backing of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison on Tuesday (Musk also expressed words of support to Scott, although he will not endorse a candidate).
Barr said he remained confident that Trump would be defeated in the primary, “and if he’s not in the primary, he will be defeated” in the general election, he added.
Of recent polls showing Trump back in the lead, Barr said the polls didn’t reflect the streak of many GOP voters. “Many Republicans understand the great opportunity for 2024 and Trump is most likely to lose. And even if he won, he wouldn’t have the strength to accomplish much. … Once the other candidates are there- down, the polls will change,” he said. said.
Barr added that there has been a “softening” among GOP voters, even in the MAGA base, on the issue of a “stolen” election. “More and more people are saying it wasn’t cheating, it was rigged rules. … fewer and fewer people believe in cheating,” he said.
Barr raged against progressivism during the interview, calling it “a cute name for a Marxist view of history and the world, and the meaning of life.”
“It’s basically about elevating the collective above the individual…the perfecting of the collective,” Barr said. “It’s an ideology that says people will be judged by the side that advances or delays their cause,” and he expressed concern that it could evolve into a form of “soft despotism” in the United States.