Kristi Noem for President? Not So Fast.
Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem made headlines in 2020 for keeping her state open during the COVID-19 outbreak and opposing Faucian dictates about masks, stay-at-home orders, and church closures. To this, conservatives applauded — and rightly so. But does holding the line during a pandemic in a state with less than 900 thousand people — about the size of Charlotte, North Carolina — now warrant the frenetic swell of support for Noem among conservatives to be the next vice president or even president? Absolutely not — especially at time when the fight for constitutional conservative values is more important than ever.
Noem said in her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where she put on a visually stunning show, that "conservatives must be smarter than progressives." Indeed they must — starting with the people they rally around to be their leaders. After listening to her speech, one would walk away thinking she fits the bill. She checked all the boxes: told the harrowing tale of keeping her state open in defiance of draconian demands, made jokes about the incompetence of the D.C. media (one could just hear the echo of Sarah Palin's lame-stream media quips), talked enthusiastically about America's founding and the Constitution, rallied the troops for limited government and our God-given rights, praised good old-fashioned American individuality, derided identity politics, told a touching personal story about her cowboy father, and ended with a plea for our children and their future.
Perfect. Just what all conservatives long to hear, and much like — the comparison is simply too obvious to ignore — Palin in her prime. We loved the Alaskan governor too. Sassy, fiery, intelligent, pretty, and 100-percent Americana.
Unlike Palin, however, Noem has a federal record that goes beyond her laudable COVID response and her brief time in the governor's mansion. She served in Congress from 2011 to 2019, where she cast votes that affected all Americans, not just those in South Dakota. Alas, reality has a way of throwing cold water on us all.
Noem waxes eloquent about freedom, conservatism, and the Constitution, but when it came to voting, she was decidedly purple in her ideology and leadership within the House of Representatives. Contrary to conservative values, she voted for the bloated $855-billion Cromnibus spending package, voted against repealing federal biofuel and energy subsidy programs, voted against farm bill work requirements, voted against reducing funding for assistance housing programs, and voted against reducing funding for essential air service programs and other alternative energy requirements. However, she has been consistently pro-life and voted to bar funding of Obama's policy to grant amnesty to illegal aliens, though at the time of this vote, she had an underwhelming 51-percent liberty score across the board.
Regarding voting scores, Heritage Action and Conservative Review gave her a failing grade of 58-percent lifetime liberty score. Compare this to Ted Cruz's 91 percent, Rand Paul's 89, and Mike Lee's 96. The Club for Growth in 2017 gave her a lifetime score of 65 percent. Compare this to Justin Amash's 99 percent, Andy Biggs's 100 percent, and Jim Jordan's 98 percent. The American Conservative Union in the same year gave her a lifetime average of 75 percent. Finally, Noem's National Journal Composite Conservative Score, which was last recorded in 2013, was 27.5 percent.
During Noem's many years in Congress, she held zero leadership positions on any committee or subcommittee. She succeeded sponsoring three bills (an Amber alert bill, an amendment to Title XI, and a peace and security act) that made it into law. The last piece of legislation is problematic — not so much because the law is overtly controversial — it had bipartisan support — but because of its focus and external support.
Additionally, the peace and security act wasn't about liberty, limited government, conservative initiatives, or economic growth. It was about women. Having legislation about women isn't intrinsically bad, but it does say something about your priorities when your most notable legislation as a woman is about women during an age of identity politics. It's also revealing that the initiative was supported only by anti-conservative lobby groups.
The bill introduced by Noem in the 115th Congress was H.R. 2484 — Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, an issue previously advocated by the Obama administration. In the Senate, S. 1141 was introduced by a Democrat — Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who was considered as a running mate for Joe Biden. The bill states, "The United States should be a global leader in promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention, management, and resolution and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts; and the political participation and leadership of women in fragile environments, particularly during democratic transitions, is critical to sustaining democratic institutions."
In other words, the United States is to be proactive in telling international entities that women — because of their sex — need to be involved in peacemaking because, evidently, they're better at making peace. Again, not a necessarily a controversial issue — and it did receive Republican support and was signed into law by President Trump — but it's not particularly "conservative" or limited regarding government involvement. And, as stated above, it received no support from conservative lobby groups.
Often, it's revealing to grasp the essence of a bill by looking at who lobbies on its behalf. In the case of Noem's legislation, there were two: J Street and Population Action International. J Street is a liberal "pro-Israel" group funded by George Soros — financial support that the head of J Street wanted to keep confidential and "misspoke" about when it was leaked. To ward off controversy, founder Jeremy Ben-Ami later apologized for "misleading" statements about Soros's large funding of the lobby group.
J Street is extremely progressive and supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here it stands apart from AIPAC, which is decidedly pro-Israel and supported by most Republicans. J Street also successfully labored to defeat Tea Party activists Joe Walsh and Allen West because they opposed the creation of a Palestinian state.
The other lobby group for Noem's legislation was Population Action International, a feminist organization that supports universal access to abortion, climate change initiatives, and the reproductive "rights" of young people. It is ardently supported by the Feminist Majority Foundation and puts pressure on American politicians to support family planning programs, gender equality, and environmental sustainability on an international scale.
Exposing the sole lobby groups for Noem's legislation does not mean she supports their agenda. However, when it comes to politics, you can learn much about a person's political trajectories not only by what she says she stands for or by a singular stance on a particular issue, but who supports her when she steps up to present federal legislation. At best, this could mean she can connect on some points with an opposition bound by identity politics; at worst, it means she focuses on compromises rather than much-needed disruptive conservative initiatives.
In summary, Noem is a novice governor who has made some good decisions for her state during the pandemic and is able to give an attractive speech to conservatives. But she is a failed legislator when it comes to issues she says she supports; has proven herself in no leadership positions within Congress, where the mettle of national and international politics is truly tested; and is legislatively supported by groups that oppose everything conservatives hold dear.