Analysis: Gov. Kristi Noem tweets tough as her star dims in the GOP's 'invisible primary'
An online betting site — far from scientific — shows a dip in Noem's chances to clinch the '24 GOP presidential primary. She also struggled to grab attention in the only national poll held since a March stumble with social conservatives on a transgender sports bill.
PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has sent three tweets that many elected leaders — perhaps most — would regret.
The first called last November's elections "rigged."
The second feted International Women's Day on March 8 by saying she'd sign a transgender sports bill that she ultimately did not.
And the third dropped Wednesday, April 14, when she told refugees looking to seek asylum in the United States — long a right under federal law — to "call me when you're American."
Those expecting a walk-back, however, were disappointed. She appeared to qualify only the second tweet, which she told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader "was sent out before we had a chance to dig into the bill legally."
But for a governor who is seen as a candidate for higher office in a rough-and-tumble GOP, the tough tweeting could be part of the game.
"Put differently, this is basic party building that she's engaged in," said South Dakota State University political science professor David Wiltse , who said in an email that he didn't see a "huge departure" from previous messaging. "She is obviously an ambitious politician, like most politicians are, and this is a logical path for her to put herself on as we get into the 2024 invisible primary."
Immigration tweet draws sharp rebuke
The high-flying South Dakota governor's tweet this week — which she later defended as in response to the Biden administration's plans to quell a growing crisis of migrants seeking legal asylum on the southern border — did strike a tone different from previous political potshots, according to an immigrants' rights group in South Dakota.
Hours after its post, immigration advocacy group South Dakota Voices for Peace sent a letter to Noem calling her post part of a "pattern of racism and bigotry" toward vulnerable communities.
"These are children fleeing violence, abuse, and extortion," wrote Taneeza Islam, the group's executive director.
But the tweet was one of many Noem made mid-week, coursing through a variety of highly charged topics: everything from abortion (observing "every child has a right to life" ) to decrying "terrorists" at the southern border. By Thursday evening, from her personal account, she dinged the "radical" Biden administration for wanting to "cancel fireworks."
Tweeting back into the limelight
Some political insiders in the region point that Noem's barrage comes at a time when her own stock has dropped in the potential GOP presidential primary.
On Thursday, online wagering site PredictIt listed Noem as trailing Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador and South Carolina governor, at 7-cents-a-share versus Haley's 10-cents-a-share for who will win the 2024 Republican primary. And she's far behind former president Donald Trump (22 cents) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (24 cents).
Just a month earlier, she'd been charting double-digits on that site, tied with Haley .
The latest Echelon Insights poll charting a 2024 Republican primary — which polled before and after her March 19 announcement on HB 1217 — didn't even find the South Dakota governor within the top 10 candidates.
"Our governor has picked up where the former president left off, using Twitter as a tool to distract from political missteps," Nikki Gronli, vice chairwoman of the South Dakota Democratic Party , told Forum News Service.
'Civility and respect'
Some political observers wonder if she'll face pushback for her rhetoric, beyond Twitter angst amongst her dissenters.
In early January, two days after the siege at the U.S. Capitol, South Dakota reporters received an invite from Noem's office announcing a "media availability" that coming Monday in Sioux Falls. The governor and Schwan's Company CEO Dimitrios Smyrnios were to announce the construction of a new plant making frozen Asian-cuisine dinners that would bring hundreds of jobs to the Sioux Falls region.
Later that day, Noem hit the digital media airwaves in a column calling the two Georgia senator-elects — the state's first Jewish and Black senators — "communists."
By Monday, that appearance between Noem and Schwan's executives was scuttled.
Schwan's has not responded to numerous efforts over months by Forum News Service for an explanation. Noem's press spokesman said "schedules for both the Governor and Mr. Smyrnios changed."
In the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks in D.C., spurred by false claims of a stolen election, FNS has also contacted past corporate and nonprofit contributors to Noem's campaigns to see if her "rigged" Tweet would render her ineligible for future giving.
While FNS received no response from Polaris or Best Buy, Ken Muth, spokesman for American Family Insurance, noted the company hadn't given to Noem since late 2017 and "we want to see a return to civil and inclusive dialogue that moves our country forward."
Ethanol producer POET and Xcel Energy both said they'd evaluate donations on a "case-by-case" basis, and Samantha Mehrotra, a spokeswoman for Thrivent, said the company's PAC asks for a commitment to "civility and respect for others," among other values.
Return to spring pastures
Still, Noem's shown no slowing down in fundraising. Politico reports Noem raked in $300,000 for a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser last month, and as the dust settled on the veto-day session, she's been able to more forcefully return not just to Twitter, and to conservative television, where she doubled-down on her migrant tough-talk in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday, saying "they're not going to find a place in South Dakota."
But since the state Legislature gaveled out, Noem's also been enjoying her family ranch.
Asked by Forum News Service on Thursday whether she'd do as potential rival Haley did and step back from a presidential run if former President Trump throws his red cap back in the ring, Noem's spokesman Ian Fury only repeated her pat response that she "has absolutely no intention" of running for president and, instead, he shared a link to her Twitter feed , where her family welcomed a new bison calf.
The tweet — by deadline — already scored 4,700 likes.