Noem looks to bounce back onto Trump’s VP shortlist

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is a longtime big, bold supporter of former President Trump, and that loyalty has made her a darling of MAGA world.

Noem, a second-term governor who has served since 2018, isn’t shy about touting when she is in contact with the former president and made her support for him as president clear. Especially notable is when the two spent the July 4 holiday together at Mount Rushmore in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Noem, 51, has been a staunch Trump ally since he became the GOP nominee in 2016, first backing Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) candidacy but then turning to Trump. For his 2024 run, she was an early endorser of the former president, backing his bid in August.

And Trump endorsed Noem’s first gubernatorial run, which made her the first female governor of South Dakota. She previously served as a member of Congress for eight years.

When Trump confirmed a list of names floated as potential vice presidential contenders during a February event in South Carolina, he listed Noem and said she has “been incredible fighting” for him.

But her chances to become Trump’s running mate seem to have taken a hit, when she revealed in her forthcoming book that she shot her dog after a hunting trip. The Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book, first reported on the story. Since then, she has been mocked and criticized for killing the dog, and for sharing the roughly 20-year-old story.

“I guess if I were a better politician I wouldn’t tell the story here,” Noem wrote in the book.

The governor has said her willingness to share the story should be seen as a sign of her authenticity and willingness to make difficult choices. But tough interview after tough interview indicated the story wasn’t being received in that way.

Trump in May reportedly weighed in on the scandal at a private fundraiser, saying he was really curious about the dog.

In the national spotlight

Noem often makes appearances on Newsmax and Fox News to bash the current administration and promote conservative issues.

At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this year, she both touted her record and hammered Washington.

“Nobody turns to D.C. for the solutions. Nothing meaningful gets accomplished here. It is governors who have had to lead, and I have seen governors make bad decisions and devastate their states, and we have seen governors who did the right thing,” Noem said.

In a CPAC straw poll on Trump’s vice presidential pick, she tied with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy for the top choice.

Noem rallied with Trump in Ohio in March, donning the signature red “Make America Great Again” hat with the former president, who sang her praises.

“We have a very special woman who’s hot as a politician. She’s doing an incredible job in South Dakota. She’s the governor, Kristi Noem,” Trump said about her.

When Noem took the stage, she said she went “on defense” when President Biden took office. “All I do now is fight to protect the freedom of my people,” she said.

Trump later added, “You know you’re not allowed to say she’s beautiful, so I’m not going to say that. I will not say it, because … if you make that statement, that’s the end of your political — so I will not say that.”

<em>FILE – President Donald Trump speaks to Gov.-elect Kristi Noem, R-S.D., during a meeting at the White House, Dec. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)</em>
FILE – President Donald Trump speaks to Gov.-elect Kristi Noem, R-S.D., during a meeting at the White House, Dec. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Conservative standard-bearer

As governor, she has championed conservative issues. She has pushed for measures aimed at the LGBTQ community, signing legislation to ban surgical and nonsurgical gender-affirming care for minors and to restrict transgender athletes. She backed a law to restrict abortion that does not include exceptions for rape and incest and only to save the life of the mother. She has said she personally does not support exceptions for rape or incest and that she doesn’t “believe a tragedy should perpetuate another tragedy.”

She was among the red state leaders who resisted COVID-19 mandates, alongside governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis (R). Her resistance further propelled her on the national stage.

She banned state employees and contractors from accessing TikTok in 2022. Noem said she would deploy National Guard troops from her state to the southern border, which she called a “war zone.” In February, she deployed 60 South Dakota National Guard service members to Texas on a rolling basis “over a three-month period.”

Lisa Hager, a political science professor at South Dakota State University, noted that Noem “wants to engage in a conversation with some of the issues going on” on a national level, signaling she has higher aspirations.

“If she stayed out of those things, then it just seems like she’s more focused on South Dakota. And I don’t know what her future plans are, politically speaking. But it definitely seems like she has her eyes on something in the future,” Hager said.

Provocative statements

She picks fights with the Biden administration, including in April when she said she would see the president “in court” over federal Title IX changes about transgender students.

Her most recent fight with Biden stemmed from her story about killing her dog. She suggested that Biden’s German Shepherd, Commander, who bit Secret Service personnel at least two dozen times between October 2022 and June 2023, should have met a similar fate as her Cricket.

The White House, in response, said her comments were disturbing and that she should “stop digging herself into a hole.”

But her outspokenness has found pushback within her own state.

Noem is banned from all South Dakota tribal lands, as the state’s nine Indigenous tribes voted to bar her from their territories. Tribes denounced her after they were offended by her comments suggesting tribal leaders were profiting from Mexican drug cartels.

Noem’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this profile.

A Noem comeback?

Hager said that while the dog story has garnered national attention, as well as Noem’s passage in her book falsely describing a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the governor has been able to come back from criticism in the past.

“I will say within the state of South Dakota, there’s oftentimes when she’s dealing with some sort of controversy or sometimes just criticism,” she said. “She’s always been able to bounce back from these things. So I don’t think what’s happened is necessarily going to harm her long term.”

The governor was floated as a possible contender for president herself. But she said in August, before Trump took that clear front-runner spot in a full Republican primary field, that no one could beat the former president for the nomination.

She noted at the time that she has won all of her own statewide races but also praised Trump, saying he did great things for South Dakota as president and “he let me do my job.” She added that she thought Trump was “inspirational” and that “people always show up to hear something interesting.”

Noem rallied with Trump in South Dakota in September and called the former president a “leader” and a “fighter,” adding that she will do everything she can to help him win the White House in 2024.

Trump, at the time, said he was honored to receive her endorsement and called her “one of the most successful governors in the entire nation.”

Noem has also said she would be Trump’s running mate “in a heartbeat.”

“Trump needs a strong partner if he’s going to take back the White House,” Noem said during a Newsmax appearance in September. “And he’s going to need somebody who knows what it’s like to run a business, to be an employee, earn a paycheck, but also having a wife, mom, and grandma isn’t bad either.”

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