Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has once again taken the fight to his political enemies — and in doing so, has sparked a debate among conservatives over the proper use of state power.
At DeSantis's behest, the state legislature has moved to strip Walt Disney World of its special, self-governing status in Florida. Many of the legal privileges the company enjoys could — and frankly, should — be objected to by principled opponents of crony capitalism. But it is also plain that the move is less motivated by anti-cronyism than retribution for Disney's opposition (under activist and employee pressure) to the state's newly enacted parental rights law colloquially known to detractors as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Social conservatives are beginning to flex their muscles within the GOP coalition in ways commensurate with the number of votes they bring in relative to other parts of the fusionist family. They are tired of the businesses whose taxes they frequently vote to cut threatening economic blowback whenever a state passes socially conservative laws on abortion, sex education, the family or LGBT issues. And they are willing to contemplate new ways to break what they see as the left's stranglehold on the culture, as Republicans increasingly turn on banks and corporations.
This new approach sits uneasily alongside recent conservative defenses of Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop. But the new right would respond by saying that liberals are already wielding state power against such entities and have long treated politics as a way to reward friends and punish enemies. The rule of law is already under assault.
There is a growing sense among conservatives that the time has come to compete with progressives on their own terms, or at least remind companies that Republicans buy sneakers, too. And a successful libertarian populism will rely at least as much on "Go woke, go broke" as appeals to abstract principles.
Of course, without limiting or consistent principles, this can become a red vs. blue race to the statist bottom quickly. Real conservatives are right to be uncomfortable. But if corporate institutions are being unfairly advantaged in ways that a sincere anti-cronyist would oppose, it may not make sense to resist politicians who act accordingly, but out of more cynical motives.
We've long known that reflexively defending existing businesses is not always the best defense of free markets.