None of this is new. What stands out as a true departure is Mr. DeSantis’s willingness to use government power in the culture war.
Sometimes this has involved areas, like public education, where the government has every right to set the rules. One such example is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, more properly known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Another is the “Individual Freedom” bill, which, among other things, prohibits promotion of the concept that a student “must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.”
Other times, Florida has pursued a laudable goal in a dubious manner. Its “Big Tech” bill seeks to keep social media companies from removing political candidates and other users from their platforms, but it has serious First Amendment conflicts and has been enjoined by a federal judge.
Then there’s the fight with Disney. The revocation of its special tax status is a frankly retaliatory act that also presents free-speech issues and could prove a legal and policy morass. That said, Disney got a truly extraordinary deal from the state that allowed it, in effect, to run its own city. The company never would have been granted this arrangement 55 years ago if its executives had told the state’s leaders, “And, by the way, eventually, the Walt Disney Company will adopt cutting edge left-wing causes as its own.”
The broader point of making an example of Disney is to send a message to other corporations that there could be downsides to letting themselves be pushed by progressive employees into making their institutions weapons in the culture wars, and conclude it’s best to stick to flying planes, selling soda, and so on.
How can a limited-government Tea Party Republican like Mr. DeSantis have become comfortable with this use of government? For that matter, how is it that so many Tea Party types moved so easily toward Trumpist populism?
The key, I think, is that for many people on the right, a libertarian-oriented politics was largely a way to register opposition to the mandarins who have an outsized influence on our public life. And it turns out that populism is an even more pungent way to register this opposition. Progressive domination of elite culture has now grown to include formerly neutral institutions like corporations and sports leagues. More conservatives are beginning to believe that the only countervailing institutional force is democratic political power as reflected in governor’s mansions, state legislatures and — likely beginning next year — Congress.