Kristi Got Her Gun

Kristi Noem did herself no favors with “No Going Back,” her new book featuring a fake story about a dictator and a true story about a dog. But she did the rest of us a big one.

I’m truly grateful to Noem for writing — or at least publishing — this book. Political memoirs usually feature wide margins, large fonts and low stakes, so it is a rarity to witness someone so willfully violating what Politico’s Michael Schaffer calls the first law of the genre: Do no harm. (If Noem’s mistake was a solar eclipse, she achieved totality.)

But the book by the South Dakota governor and presumably erstwhile contender to be Donald Trump’s running mate is worth reading in full for two additional reasons. It shows how the demands of political fealty can lead to career self-immolation; and it proves, yet again, how moments that are supposedly “taken out of context” are often worsened, not mitigated, when viewed in their full splendor.

Only Trump can decide whether Noem’s slaying of a dog named Cricket also killed off the governor’s vice-presidential hopes. But that anecdote, which has generated an enormous amount of attention, takes up only five pages in a 260-page book. Reading the rest of it makes clear not only why Noem killed the dog, but why she chose to share the story — and why she belongs nowhere near the vice presidency.

The short version of the tale, for those oblivious or enlightened enough to have ignored it, is that many years ago, Noem killed an unruly 14-month-old wirehair pointer named Cricket, after the dog wrecked a hunting party the future governor was hosting. Cricket compounded the offense by leaping from Noem’s pickup truck on the way home and murdering several chickens belonging to a neighbor. In return, Noem shot the dog dead in a gravel pit.

The facts are unsettling enough, but most telling is what Noem discloses about her motives and mind-set. The visiting hunters were longtime friends of hers, people who traveled from Georgia to South Dakota annually for the chance to bag some pheasants at her hunting lodge. This was the kind of gentlemanly pursuit in which birds are strategically guided to a convenient area for ease of slaughter. “I wanted these guys to have an amazing amount of success on their final morning of hunting,” Noem explains. But when an over-excited Cricket dashed ahead of her better-trained canine comrades and riled up the pheasants before the visitors were in range, “the hunt was ruined,” Noem writes. “I was livid.”

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