Signaling her focus on self over party, Governor Kristi Noem encouraged voters to boo fellow Republicans Senator John Thune, Senator M. Michael Rounds, and Representative Dusty Johnson for not joining her in bowing down to Donald Trump:
Gov. Kristi Noem took what some in the audience appeared to interpret as a veiled jab at the delegation during her speech, after reciting a portion of former President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” oration.
“Let me be clear. There are many who choose not to be in the arena,” Noem said. “Many who take the easy path. Who criticize. Who don’t show up for our party, our country or our constitutional rights. They don’t show up for you when it really matters. They didn’t even show up tonight to welcome a former president of the United States to South Dakota.”
The remark drew jeers from the audience for the unnamed no-shows.
Earlier in the evening, as the crowd waited for the event to start, boos rained down while videos on a large scoreboard referenced the congressional delegation. One was a replay of Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore in 2020, in which he briefly recognized the delegation; the other was a promotional video about South Dakota’s history of Republican leadership that mentioned each member of the delegation [Seth Tupper, “Trump Rally Highlights Republican Division with Booing of Absent Thune, Rounds, Johnson,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.09.09].
Right after the passage quoted by Tupper, Noem dismissed the absent Thune, Rounds, and Johnson, as disrespectful critics of Trump:
Yes, maybe it’s controversial to be here tonight. Maybe it’s not convenient. But it is not the critic who counts. Thank you all for being respectful – for being here for the man who always shows up for us [Governor Kristi Noem, prepared remarks, Trump rally, Rapid City, SD, 2023.09.08].
There are classier ways a Governor could endorse a Presidential candidate without publicly deriding the other leading lights of her state party who don’t agree with her. She could express respect for their choice to endorse a different candidate or not to endorse anyone several months before the primaries. She could respect their absence by not mentioning them at all and not putting their faces in the Jumbotron slideshow.
But a party leader should never give an eager crowd of voters reasons to boo fellow party leaders. A party leader should never undermine public confidence in fellow party members who can help the party win elections. A party leader should never foment discontent among radical insurgents who may turn their energy against other party leaders…
…unless, of course, the party leader has abandoned her dedication to the party and has chosen instead to focus on boosting her own career at any cost, including the reputation and support of other party leaders who have made the Republican brand so strong in South Dakota than even a bitter policy failure like herself can win statewide elections.
Noem has evidently decided she no longer needs to play nice with Thune, Rounds, and Johnson. She doesn’t need to play to the home field at all; she needs to play up to one man, the man who has cowed most of the rest of the party into awkward submission, the man she hopes will pave her way to the White House. And she needs to play that man’s game, throwing insults to rouse anger from the deplorable voters on whose turnout Republicans have pinned their hopes for clinging to power.