Tough-guy Ron DeSantis defeats Woke Disney! Except ... he didn’t. At all.

If you’re into combatting wokeness, the imaginary villain that haunts Republican fever dreams, then Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is your superhero du jour.

He took on Woke Disney and won! He flew migrants to Woke Martha's Vineyard and owned the libs! He singlehandedly de-woke-ified the Woke College Board’s planned AP African American studies course!

The mighty DeSantis is surely the Anti-Woke Warrior conservative America needs, right?

Well, let’s put it this way: If you’re into combatting wokeness, you’re also into getting conned, so embracing DeSantis as a blustery David defeating this perceived Goliath of liberalism is perfectly on brand. But if you’ve got at least one oar in the waters of reality, it’s a short paddle to see behind the curtain of Florida’s Great and Mighty Despoiler of Woke. And there ain’t much back there.

Florida's governor bravely takes on ... Disney?

Take DeSantis’ war on Disney, which began after the corporation – one of the largest private employers in the state – spoke out in opposition to Florida’s “don’t say gay” law restricting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Am I woke?: DeSantis and GOP fight 'woke' because hating a word is easier than hating people

The governor struck back at the “woke” theme park and entertainment giant last year by pushing for and then signing a bill abolishing the company’s longstanding status as a special tax district. In theory, that meant an end to significant tax breaks the company has enjoyed for more than 50 years.

However, right-wing exclamations of “WAY TO GO, RON!” were premature. Turns out that just doing away with Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District – which put the company in control of the sprawling area it inhabits – would force taxpayers in surrounding counties to shoulder the costs of running the Disney-occupied area (think emergency services, road repairs etc.) and take on the special tax district’s roughly $1 billion in debt.

So the Florida Legislature that does DeSantis’ bidding swooped into a special session this month to clean up the governor’s mess. Lawmakers passed a new bill that lets DeSantis pick who sits on the Disney tax district’s board.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announces tax relief  in Ocala on Feb. 8, 2023. He also wanted to eliminate more of Disney’s privileges by revoking Disney World’s designation as a special tax district.

DeSantis' Disney victory not all it was cracked up to be

As The New York Times reported: “This time, Disney would be allowed to keep the special tax district – which never went away – and almost all its perks, including the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds and approve development plans without scrutiny from certain local regulators.”

So … DeSantis stuck it to woke Disney by taking control of the board that oversees the company’s special tax district while leaving all the perks and tax breaks in place.

The bill’s sponsor in the House, Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, was asked how it changes anything happening in the district and said: “That I can’t answer.”

Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on April 18, 2022.

'BIG loss for conservatives'

Even some conservatives saw through DeSantis’ fake victory. Anthony Sabatini, chairman of the Lake County Republican Party in Florida tweeted: “So basically Woke Disney gets to keep its nearly tax-free, regulation-free status—but with a different Board. … What a massive capitulation this is. HUGE win for Woke Disney. BIG loss for conservatives.”

In Trump vs. DeSantis 2024 culture war: Black and LGBTQ people will pay the highest price

The far-right news site Big League Politics blasted this headline – “FRAUD: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Folds to Woke Disney, Pushes Bill to Quietly Restore Special Tax Breaks."

That’s far from the only example of DeSantis’ all-talk-no-actual-destruction-of-wokeness grift.

DeSantis said he forced changes to an AP course – but he didn't

The governor recently took credit for the College Board making changes to an AP African American studies course he had rejected as too “woke” and “historically fictional.” The board clapped back, saying any claim that the board “was in frequent dialogue with Florida” about the content of the course is “a false and politically motivated charge.”

National Education Association president: Black history is American history. DeSantis is stealing our students' freedom to learn it.

Last year, DeSantis fancied himself a true master of “owning the libs” after using Florida taxpayer money to lure migrants in Texas onto a plane and dump them in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The stunt might have pleased a cruel swath of the governor’s base, but it was largely met with derision and viewed as an inhumane waste of money.

It also, according to at least one of several lawsuits, might have violated state law because the state money earmarked for transporting migrants specified they had to already be in Florida, not Texas or any other state. And, of course, the whole stunt had zero impact on immigration, or really anything else.

Florida lawmakers spending time cleaning up DeSantis' war-on-woke messes

The aforementioned Republican Florida lawmakers who recently cleaned up DeSantis’ Disney mess also tried to fix his migrant transport problem this month by passing a bill that declared “all payments made pursuant to (the original law) are deemed approved.” It’s good to have powerful friends devoid of ethics, apparently.

DeSantis is fighting woke gun-control advocates by pushing legislation that would allow Floridians to carry guns without safety training or permits. But at an election night party in Tampa last year, The Washington Post reported, the governor’s campaign banned guns at the event while asking city officials to say it was their decision.

Florida: Where woke goes to die ... or not

It seems rumors of DeSantis’ success at battling the liberal “woke mind virus,” or whatever it is they’re calling it these days, may be greatly exaggerated. I imagine that’s of interest to another alleged enemy of wokeness down in South Florida – one Donald J. Trump. Rumor has it the former president and current presidential candidate is sitting around pondering possible nicknames for DeSantis, who many expect will enter the Republican presidential primary.

Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.

How about Paper-Tiger Ron? Or maybe Ron FakeSantis? Ron “All Woke Sizzle, No Woke Steak” DeSantis?

I dunno, I’m just spitballing here. I’ll leave it to Trump to figure it out. It’s literally the only thing he’s good at – which means he’s good at one more thing than Florida’s all-show-no-go governor.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on Twitter @RexHuppke and Facebook, or contact him at

More from Rex Huppke:

Monday after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday of rest, shame and regret

'Dark Brandon' shows up at State of the Union, mops the floor with lost Republicans

USA TODAY food drive donates nearly 670,000 meals, columnist declares self 'awesome'

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ron DeSantis takes control of 'woke' Disney board, tax breaks remain