Of Presidents and Potentates

"Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals." - Mark Twain

Of Presidents and Potentates
The Most Political Place on Earth?

How can Americans be expected to vote for a presidential candidate who gets his ass kicked by a cartoon mouse?

Mickey is apparently not a creature to be trifled with. As the Florida governor finalizes official plans to run for the White House, the Disney company kicked Ron DeSantis in his man gland with its announcement. Mighty Mouse canceled a billion-dollar new campus at Lake Nona near Orlando, which disappeared 2000 jobs it was expected to create. Although the move is being positioned by Disney CEO Robert Iger as strictly a business decision, there is clearly a political impact on the GOP delusionist DeSantis. The loss of jobs and tax dollars can do nothing to help his national profile.

Worse yet for Florida and DeSantis, the announcement seems to imply that more “strategic” business moves might be coming from Disney. A statement issued by the company referred to a significant future investment in the Orlando area at Disney World, and that the company was moving forward on those projects, maybe.

"We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years," a Disney memo said. "I hope we're able to do so."

That latter sentence ought to be noted by DeSantis and his political gurus as something more than a subtle warning. Why would Disney keep spending money in Florida if its governor continues attacks on the company’s progressive politics? Everyone by now knows that Disney and CEO Iger pushed back on the DeSantis “Don’t Say Gay,” silliness, and his takeover of the governing board along with his threat to even build a prison next to the “happiest place on Earth,” but it is unusual for corporate America to push back so openly against a state’s politics, and a high-profile state leader.

Disney can probably get away with it since they are Florida’s largest employer and taxpayer, which, apparently, in no way chastens DeSantis. He appears willing to blow up jobs and state revenues to serve the right-wing hopes of his base, who he needs to win any presidential primary. The Lake Nona project was canceled after Disney had sued the governor in a U.S. District Court, claiming retaliation. The way that suit is styled makes it abundantly obvious the action was a preliminary step in the Mouse’s pullback from Florida.

Disney’s lawsuit addresses the state oversight board's decision that voided "publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney's investment dollars and thousands of jobs." The suit accused DeSantis of "a targeted campaign of government retaliation, orchestrated at every step by Gov. DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech, and now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights."

The former Navy Judge Advocate General, DeSantis had already been outsmarted by the mouse. When he got the Florida legislature to dissolve the governing board of Disney’s special district that allowed the giant theme park to govern and tax itself, which left the Disney board without legal authority, the sitting members moved quickly to turn the property back over to the company by voiding a contract previously in place with the state. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, with DeSantis personally appointed minions, was rendered moot, and he was not happy.

DeSantis has an easy choice. He can be anti-woke if he wants, but it also puts him in the position of being anti-work just as he wants to talk to Americans about making him president. What kind of fool picks a political fight over LGBTQ rights with his state’s largest employer? The company employs 70,000 people in Florida, and there isn’t a state in all the land that wouldn’t love to have every one of those jobs on its tax rolls. DeSantis’ big achievements as a politician appear to be little more than bullying and winning minor skirmishes in the culture wars, neither of which have prepared him to be president of Bed, Bath, and Beyond, much less an entire country. “Make America Florida?” I think what he means is to make America a Christo-fascist hellscape.

The GOP appears to have numerous presidential options for their primary, in any case, each about as appealing as the Florida man. Their only problem is that most of them are as unstable as DeSantis. Trump may remain the frontrunner but daily there are others making their obvious moves to launch. Mike Pence has a super PAC, and the former vice president is expected to announce soon that he is running. His platform is likely to include required attendance at the local church of your choice and the mandated impregnation of all married women. He’s going to be appealing to the hard right base that votes in GOP primaries, and who wanted him hung for not overturning the last presidential election.

There is also Nikki Haley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador, who sounds like a crazy, right-wing male candidate cross-dressing in a dress and heels. She has seemed at times almost as cravenly ambitious as DeSantis. The GOP South Carolina primary is the third of the year in ’24, and running as the home state heroine might give Haley some oxygen early in the race. Not even that is good odds for Haley, though, since one of her home state’s U.S. Senators, Tim Scott, is going to run. A conservative African American, who can raise big bucks, will dilute the “favorite daughter” effect that might lift Haley above irrelevance. Scott could also be vaulted into prominence with a strong performance on his home turf.

Another Republican woman and governor is also likely to get involved, or at least position herself as a VP running mate for Trump. Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota since 2018, is claiming conservative credentials that ought to get national attention, she insists. Telegenic and articulate, Noem is also an opportunist and sent her state’s National Guard to the Texas border to stop the fearful hordes of immigrants. What she has done in South Dakota that is relevant to a national stage, not a soul in Poughkeepsie could tell you. I’m inclined to think of what Family Guy’s character Peter Griffin said of North Dakota, “It’s not even the best Dakota.” The claim applies, in Noem’s case, to South Dakota. She will have to be plucked from the plains by some other candidate to become relevant.

The other hopefuls, which I am wanting to run and make the race into a carnival of imbecilities, include Chris Christie, who keeps talking tough but probably isn’t having a lot of luck with the big-money check writers. He does have the Jersey boy temperament to talk over Trump and the way Trump babbles as he ignores reporter questions. Might be interesting to see two of the least likable politicians in America set their noses against each other and scream. We could calm them down with Asa Hutchison, a Republican two-term former governor of Arkansas and a former U.S. Attorney, who was barely known during his era of political prominence in the 90s when he was one of the Bill Clinton impeachment managers as congressman. Hutchison will suffer the heartbreak of ineffectuality on the campaign trail.

Virginia has an overly ambitious sort as a Republican governor who is probably tossing his ego into the ring. Glenn Youngkin hasn’t even been governor of the state for 18 months and he’s jabbering about national issues and trying to position himself as a conservative visionary, if there can be such a thing. Younkin isn’t really being subtle. He filmed a recent 60-second commercial, largely at the Reagan Presidential Library in California, and seems to be working on the notion he can be The Guy to Unify. Wait, that’s a good tagline. But Youngkin strikes me as being in the busiest presidential lane out on the far right. My guess is he’s running, though, which ought to piss off the Virginians who thought they’d hired him as their governor.

There are a couple of other GOP governors sniffing around the White House door, too. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, where the GOP will, as always, conduct its first in-the-nation presidential primary, will play the “favorite son” game, almost certainly. By running in your state’s primary with name recognition, favorite sons and daughters hope for national attention that will help their campaigns catch fire and grow beyond their home state’s boundaries. It can happen, but not likely in Sununu’s case because he’s probably too centrist for the GOP primary voter. I think America is likely to say to Governor Sununu what George W. Bush said often to Sununu’s father when he was the then-president’s chief of staff. When John Sununu would argue for a policy decision Bush didn’t like, he’d grow exasperated, and say, “No, no, no, Nunu!” Probably what his son is likely to hear from voters outside his state, too.

Texas Greg Slaughter also gets his name mentioned as presidential timber, but maybe it’s more wormwood than useful timber. Greg Abbott is the worst thing to happen to Texas since the Alamo and light beer. Presently, he’s planning to blackmail state legislators and call them back to Austin for a special session to pass his “Parental Choice” bill, which is marketing language to substitute for “school vouchers.” The governor has spent the entire spring running around the state to private Christian schools campaigning for a new law that will send them Texas tax dollars to subsidize their tuition for families enrolling their children. I am assuming someone will immediately file a constitutional lawsuit if the measure passes and argue, reasonably, that giving state tax money to religious institutions violates the separation of church and state laid out in the founding document.

There are a thousand other reasons to reject Abbott, not just governor, but also as any potential presidential candidate, or, for that matter, even as a rational human. Mass gun murders have risen dramatically since he moved into the mansion and signed into law the permit-less carry bill, which means anyone alive and over 18 who has figured out how to eat and breathe, can have a gun, an AR-15 if they want. Abbott got the bill passed right after a racially-crazed loon drove to El Paso and slaughtered a department store crowd that looked like they might be Mexican Americans.

Abbott is also making certain the legislature, even though it is working with a $34 billion dollar budget surplus, does not give teachers more than a $2000 pay raise, but he claims publicly he’s working on the state’s dramatic teacher shortage. His governorship has made Texas the least insured state in the union, mostly because he has refused to expand Medicaid, which would give insurance to an estimated one million school-age children in Texas, the least insured state in America. His hypocrisy also extends itself to guns. Every mass killing, he talks about problems with mental health (it’s not the guns, of course), and hopes the public doesn’t notice Texas is 50th among states in mental health funding and resources.

There is a very depressing book to be written about what Greg Abbott has done to Texas during his tenure (Nope, not me) but if you want just a bit of an overview, it can be found almost anywhere on the web, or in conversations where sane people gather and ask themselves WTF? By ending abortion in the state, sending DPS troopers and thousands of National Guard soldiers to the border, preventing transgender students from participating in sports, making their doctors’ treatment illegal, and giving voice to a bill that would authorize the state to remove trans kids from their parents’ homes, Abbott has energized his authoritarian philosophy of pushing government into the private lives of Texans, which is what he’d do if he ever got close to the Oval Office.

And he won’t. Yeah, said that about Trump, too.

Meanwhile, the actual adult who is presently president is trying to stave off global economic chaos and get the debt ceiling approved, which has been a tradition and the only reliable sign of bi-partisan cooperation in our consistently divided house. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has diverted an effort to get the fraudulent George Santos out of the chamber, is trying to use the debt ratification to get spending cuts from the president and the Democratic majority in the Senate. Among the many items he claims need cutting are Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security, which taxpayers fund with lifelong deductions from their paychecks. McCarthy doesn’t care, nor do the Republicans, that this would be devastating to tens of millions of American households. He wants to be the first Republican who can reduce or eliminate those social payments, often referred to as entitlements. We are, of course, entitled to that money since it came from our wages with a promise to come back to us when needed late in life. This means you spend all your working years paying into a retirement fund, and when it comes time for you to get paid out by that fund, the GOP says, no, get your ass back to work if you want some of your own money back.

President Biden is, undoubtedly, wasting time talking to McCarthy and the GOP House members. They want a scalp to show they can take on the Democrats and win, and the president is trying to make the government function and not default on a debt, one-third of which was created by Donald Trump’s corporate tax cuts during his administration. In the four years he was president the national debt rose from the $19.9 trillion that existed in 2017 to $27.8 trillion when he left office. That increase of $7.9 trillion dollars is one-third of the current national debt’s total, and McCarthy wants to pay for it with required work for Medicaid and Social Security recipients, even though most of it was accumulated by Trump’s massive corporate and wealthy tax cuts.

While he has thus far indicated he has no interest in using it, the president ought to invoke the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which experts claim authorizes him to raise the debt limit. Section Four of the amendment says that the “validity of the public debt, authorized by law…..shall not be questioned.” The clear implication is that all bills are required to be paid, regardless of whether the McCarthys of the world want to use the debt limit as a political tool. Raising the national debt limit without concessions from the president will make McCarthy look worse as a speaker than he does.

And that is already historically bad.

James Moore is a New York Times bestselling author, political analyst, and business communications consultant who has been writing and reporting on Texas politics since 1975. He writes frequently for CNN and other national media outlets and can be reached a jim@bigbendstrategies.com.