Are Florida Republicans engaged in unfair political retaliation? “As a matter of first principle,” Mr. DeSantis said last month, “I don’t support special privileges in law, just because a company is powerful.” Live by the corporate carve-out, die by the corporate carve-out. As a matter of political realism, the Reedy Creek district is a perk the state gave Disney. The mystery is why Disney thought it could push around state lawmakers without any pushback.
One answer is that previous corporate political signaling came with little cost and media hosannas. Recall when Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game out of Atlanta, as a punishment for Georgia’s new voting law. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. The voting law “does not match Delta’s values,” fretted CEO Ed Bastian.
Did they read the bill? Or did they trust President Biden, who called it “Jim Crow 2.0”? Voting absentee in Georgia is still easier than in New York or Delaware.
The political frenzy in Florida began with a similar dynamic. Early versions of the state’s controversial bill were broader, but here’s the key line in the law that passed: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate.” That language belies the claim that kids with gay siblings or two moms couldn’t talk openly about their families.
At first CEO Bob Chapek told employees that Disney would take no position. “As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” he wrote. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.” But inspired by an earlier tweet from former CEO Bob Iger, Disney employees went into open rebellion. Soon Mr. Chapek was groveling to his underlings and calling Florida’s bill a “challenge to basic human rights.”
Perhaps he thought this would be a free way to mollify his staff, but Mr. Chapek misjudged the political moment. Republican voters who have watched companies side with the progressive agenda and silence employees who disagree are fed up. Mr. Chapek was right the first time: Disney’s political foray didn’t stop the Florida law. But it made a lot of people mad, including Disney customers and state lawmakers.
There’s a warning here to other companies, especially Big Tech and Wall Street, which are mainly based in liberal states but conduct business everywhere. If they try to impose their cultural values, they risk losing Republican allies on the policy issues that matter most to their bottom lines, such as regulation, trade, taxation, antitrust and labor law. Polls show rising GOP hostility to big business, and that is likely to be reflected when Republicans take power.
If good tax policy can’t pass Congress because Republican voters are furious about cultural imperialism from the C-suite, that’s bad for the country. It’s also bad for business. The Disney lesson for CEOs is to stay out of these divisive cultural fights. The lesson for political partisans in the workplace is that their bosses run the office, but they don’t run the country.