Noem, DeSantis and pugnacity as a political strategy
Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis sits next to President Donald Trump and South Dakota Governor-elect Kristi Noem during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on Dec. 13, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
It’s apparent there are some journalists in Sioux Falls who are being punished. These are the reporters and anchors assigned to the morning shows that start at 5 a.m. and drag on for hours until the network talkathons start. With so many hours of airtime to fill, these local early morning shows play the same “top stories” over and over.
A recent top story was about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visiting Iowa. South Dakotans probably only know DeSantis from the headlines he generates. He formally launched his candidacy for president on Wednesday. He doesn’t get along with Disney. He gets bent out of shape whenever someone says “gay” in the classroom.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem probably knows DeSantis better than the rest of us do, given that they’re both the chief executives of their states and she’s also mentioned as a possible candidate for the Republican nomination for president.
If she was keeping track of a potential rival and watching morning news coverage, it’s likely that Noem was dismayed — not about DeSantis getting so much airtime in her state or his campaign being so much further along than hers. What would cause that dismay was the fact that DeSantis has appropriated a campaign slogan that would be perfect for Noem.
Plastered on the walls of one of the Iowa venues DeSantis visited was his campaign slogan: Never Back Down. This slogan would serve Noem well, too, as it’s difficult to remember the last time she backed down from anything or anyone.
Maybe being pugnacious is supposed to attract voters. It certainly has worked well so far for Noem as she continues her second four-year term as governor and cultivates a reputation as a possible presidential candidate.
Noem has never backed down when it comes to questions about how she uses the state airplane. Legislators from both parties have brought unsuccessful bills designed to settle, once and for all, the question of whether the state airplane is being used for political purposes rather than state business.
Noem’s executive branch minions who rose in opposition to these bills generally had two arguments. One argument says that keeping track of who was flying on the plane and where they were going would mean an onerous amount of paperwork. The other argument says that the paperwork already exists showing who’s on the plane and how it’s being used. In every case, Noem has been able to rely on the Republican majority to have her back and kill bills that would allow South Dakotans to know how the airplane they paid for is being used.
For today’s national politicians, the best way to control the narrative is by shouting louder than the other fellow and always insisting that your interpretation of facts or events is the only one that matters.
During the pandemic, Noem crowed about how South Dakota was staying open for business. She was adamant that state government was not going to put any restrictions on businesses or individuals. As she touted her policies and how good they were, South Dakota drew the attention of journalists. They looked with skepticism on Noem’s policies and used pandemic data to point out that South Dakota’s freedom policies caused it to lead the league in per capita coronavirus deaths. These reporters, according to Noem, had left-leaning political agendas and were purposely reading the data in a way that skewed its meaning.
There was no quit in Noem’s defense of the way she handled her daughter’s attempts to get a real estate appraiser’s license. There were no ethical concerns for the governor as she had her daughter present at a meeting with the official in charge of the appraiser program and the secretary of labor. Even after a report from the Republican-controlled Government Operations and Audit Committee said that the governor’s daughter received preferential treatment, Noem continued to dispute that she had done anything wrong.
Noem’s hard-charging attitude that never allows her to admit she may be in the wrong has earned her fans in South Dakota and polished her national image. Noem’s tactics fit well in today’s political arena, where compromise is seen as a sign of weakness. For today’s national politicians, the best way to control the narrative is by shouting louder than the other fellow and always insisting that your interpretation of facts or events is the only one that matters. If she does run for president, Noem should fit right in.
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