Kristi Noem Does D.C.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Calvin Coolidge Foundation conference at the Library of Congress on February 17. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Happy Monday! Incumbency has lots of advantages in politics, but there’s the occasional drawback too. For instance, when you’re the president of the United States, sometimes you have to endure a round of bad press over not shooting down a Chinese spy balloon quickly enough—and then another round of bad press when tightening up your anti-balloon defenses leads to firing $400,000 Sidewinder missiles at $12 hobbyist balloons by mistake. 

Up to Speed

  • South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott kicked off his soft-launch listening tour ahead of a possible presidential campaign last week with a Thursday speech at the Charleston County GOP’s Black History Month gala. This week Scott will head to Iowa for a Wednesday afternoon event at Drake University in Des Moines.
  • Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that he’ll make a decision about whether to run for president “sometime this spring.”
  • Former President Donald Trump and his allies are ramping up their war against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is trying to stay out of the fight until after the end of his state’s spring legislative session. While Trump continued his erratic barrage of scattershot attacks on DeSantis his social media platform Truth Social, some of his allies started pushing a novel falsehood: that DeSantis had been “endorsed” for president by billionaire donor and bogeyman of the right George Soros. In a speech last week, Soros called Trump a “pitiful figure” and said the “shrewd, ruthless, and ambitious” governor of Florida was “likely to be the Republican candidate.” Trump allies like former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake were quick to highlight and inflate the backhanded compliment: “The kiss of death,” Lake tweeted
  • T.J. Shope, Arizona Senate president pro tempore, is considering a U.S. Senate run next year. He announced as much on Twitter Sunday night in response to a Washington Post piece saying Kari Lake had “frozen the field” as she mulls a bid. “Hasn’t frozen me,” he wrote. “We need somebody who can actually win in November and that’s why I’m seriously considering this US Senate seat!” Shope has positioned himself as a pro-Trump conservative during his time in office, but one with a particular small-government streak: In 2021 he sided with state Democrats to kill a bill that would have shut down businesses that refused to serve those who were unvaccinated against COVID-19 on the grounds that “I believe in private property rights.”

Kristi Noem’s D.C. Trial Run

South Dakota isn’t known as a major incubator of presidential talent. The last major-party nominee to hail from the state, Sen. George McGovern, was crushed in a 49-state rout a half-century ago by incumbent President Richard Nixon. But it looks like Gov. Kristi Noem thinks the time is ripe to reset the clock.

Like most of the rest of the likely GOP contenders, Noem has been coy for months about whether she intends to seek the top job: “I’m not convinced I need to run for president,” she told CBS last month, and declined to elaborate to The Dispatch last week: “We’ll keep watching it.” But she’s recently made a series of moves to raise her national profile ahead of next year’s primaries: running nationwide ads designed to trumpet her conservative credentials, making trips to neighboring Iowa, and, last week, giving speeches at three right-leaning institutions in Washington.

Outside of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, no Republican politician saw his or her star rise faster during the COVID-19 pandemic than Noem, who staked out a laissez-faire, pro-freedom approach to pandemic management early: She boasts that South Dakota was the only state in the country to never shut down a business. As other Republicans caught up in the summer of 2020, Noem became something of a folk hero, a reputation she burnished through regular appearances in conservative-friendly media like Fox News. A 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll—one that excluded former president Donald Trump from the running—found her second only to DeSantis among the conference’s attendees.

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