The Part of the Kristi Noem Saga That I Can’t Shake

Americans like feeling as though they know their political leaders personally. And yet I think many of us now feel we know a little too much about Kristi Noem, one of the more aggressive contestants in the MAGA pageant to be Donald Trump’s running mate.

First, you definitely do not want the South Dakota governor to pet sit. Just, no.

Second, when it comes to reminiscing about meeting world leaders, Ms. Noem has a touch of George Santos about her. (Although who among us hasn’t fantasized about kicking it with Kim Jong-un, am I right?)

Third, the governor seems bored. On top of pursuing the V.P. slot, she has been gunning to replace Wayne LaPierre as top dog at the National Rifle Association (Boom! Double pun!), according to Axios, which reported that she offered to leave office early for a senior post. (Ms. Noem’s office denied she spoke with Mr. LaPierre and insisted she “loves her job.”)

While all these tidbits are juicy, the Noem nugget from her new book that has stuck with me is the story about being “threatened” by Nikki Haley. As Ms. Noem tells it, she was hauling a trailerful of horses down the road one day in 2021 when Ms. Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and former governor of South Carolina, phoned to offer her mentoring services. But what was Ms. Haley really up to? According to Ms. Noem, Ms. Haley told her: “I’ve heard many good things about you. But when I do hear bad things, I will make sure that you know.” Combined with a couple of “long” and “awkward” pauses, this made the governor suspect a more sinister motive:

“It was clear that she wanted me to know that there was only room for one Republican woman in the spotlight. It was weird,” Ms. Noem recalls in her book telling her assistant. “Unsurprisingly,” she muses, “I never received any calls or ‘mentoring’ from her, but the message was clear. I’m the alpha female here, and you should know your place. I actually felt a little sad for her.”

This anecdote makes me a little sad as well, though not for Ms. Haley. It feels as though Ms. Noem, in applying her own dark perspective to their conversation, has a potentially worrisome need to see, and present, herself as a nail-tough woman in a rock-hard world — as further evidenced by her puppy-killing tale and by her assertion that Kim Jong-un (who, please recall, she did not meet) surely “underestimated” her and her gift for “staring down little tyrants.” Her instinct to include the Haley anecdote in her please-pick-me-for-V.P. book suggests something depressing about how Ms. Noem sees her party and her gender’s place in it.

The idea that there is space for only a certain number of women in the upper echelons of the G.O.P., and that those high-achieving women need to stomp on one another to advance, seems extremely retro. And the notion that an experienced state-representative-turned-congresswoman-turned-governor sees herself this explicitly through the lens of gender — leaning into performative anecdotes that make her seem as tough as any MAGA bro — is revealing about what she thinks is required to rise in the party.

Back to top button