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Florida Governor DeSantis targets 'woke CEOs' for corporate activism

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Yahoo Finance columnist Rick Newman assesses Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' criticism of business executives participating in corporate activism.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

RACHELLE AKUFFO: An anti-woke agenda from the right seems to be gaining steam, especially within states like Florida and West Virginia. Joining us now with more on this is Yahoo Finance senior columnist Rick Newman. So Rick, talk about what we're seeing in terms of this policy, especially that we're seeing from DeSantis.

RICK NEWMAN: So the latest from DeSantis, he's going after investing firms and other companies that practice ESG, this famous investing motif, environment or social and governmental or governance focus. He wants to put new limits on the way the state's pension funds can invest in firms like this. And he singled out PayPal, which, I guess, denied financing services to a company in Florida, or rather, an outfit in Florida that is advocating against so-called gender ideology.

You know, Rachelle, I'm not entirely fluent in all these cultural warfare terms. But at any rate, what we're seeing is, I mean, this anti-woke crusade among the political right has been working. But now they seem to be trying to operationalize it in terms of applying it to specific businesses.

People might remember when Florida went after Disney World in earlier this year on that education bill that Disney opposes, the so-called Don't Say Gay bill. And they tried to take away some of Disney's rights, property rights in Florida. And I think what this means for companies is they just need to be prepared for this. Everything is politicized these days in America, including companies that might not think they're doing anything overtly political.

DAVE BRIGGS: This is a presidential candidate. Whether he said it or not, he has presidential ambitions. Does this kind of upend the Republican pro-business argument and potentially turn off some of his biggest potential donors?

RICK NEWMAN: You might think it's going in that direction. I suppose Republicans would say it's really the other way around. It's the business community that has stopped supporting Republicans. But look, the business community doesn't want anything to do with culture wars or social wars or some of these things that conservatives are now trying to get leverage on.

So I guess we're going to have to find out. I mean, it's worth recalling that a lot of the members of Congress who opposed Biden's election, going back to 2020, there were a lot of big companies said we're going to stop donating to it. It was something like six or seven dozen members of Congress. And some big companies said we're going to stop donating. But they started donating again to many of those candidates, simply because big businesses kind of like to solicit everybody.

So they kind of want to spread their money around and be friendly with everybody. And I think what they need to do is figure out better strategies to keep their heads down when the shrapnel starts flying in the culture wars, instead of getting caught in those wars, as Disney did earlier this year in Florida.

SEANA SMITH: Rick, what's been the reaction inside the Republican Party? Have we heard anything just in terms of them going against or backing DeSantis on this?

RICK NEWMAN: The problem for Republicans at this point is that-- is if you overtly back DeSantis, then you are, of course, going against Donald Trump, because Trump, at least, is saying that he wants to run for president again in 2024. I don't think he's going to run for president, or I don't think he's going to be serious about it. But I think we're still more than two years away from that election.

So I think most Republicans just want to keep their heads down and stay out of it. They may quietly support DeSantis because he's Trumpy without the Trump baggage. He is a kind of a conservative culture warrior. And he might be a pretty viable candidate who could win, whereas polls show that even some Republicans at this point don't want Trump to run again. But no one wants to pick a fight with Trump. Trump still is pretty powerful in that regard. And Republicans just probably are going to keep their mouths shut, most of them.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Rick Newman, as always, thanks so much for hopping on with us. And have a great weekend.

RICK NEWMAN: See you guys.

SEANA SMITH: We'll see you next week.