Kristi Noem and Matt Walsh Slap-Fight in Odd Spectacle

AP Photo/Stephen Groves File

Some days ago, I wrote a mild critique of a tweet from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a GOP politician I (and I think most Republicans) generally like. Actually, I simply used her as an example in an article that wasn’t really about her (see Joe Biden Unveils His Latest Abuse of Power But Are Republicans up for the Fight). Regardless, on that day, I felt like she was skirting the issue on vaccine mandates by refusing to even forcibly speak out against private companies that stomp on individual rights under the guise of free enterprise.

Obviously, there are serious disagreements on the right about how far governors should go on that front. Gov. Ron DeSantis has chosen the more direct path, banning vaccine mandates by executive order. Meanwhile, a day after I wrote my piece, Noem released this video doubling down on her position that it was not conservative to try to tell private companies what to do in regards to vaccine mandates.

Was she taking a shot at DeSantis? It kind of felt like it, but even if that wasn’t the intention, she poured gasoline on the fire.

That led the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh to go rather far in his criticism of Noem on his podcast, with Walsh pretty clearly saying that the governor would not be a thing in politics if she weren’t attractive.

That elicited a response from Noem.

Walsh fired back several times, but here’s one example.

I’m gonna make no one happy and say both sides didn’t handle this properly.

Is Noem only a thing in Republican circles because she’s attractive? I think that’s unfair. Obviously, presentation for a politician plays a role, but it’s not the totality of Noem’s notoriety. She has actually done a really good job in fighting COVID restrictions in her state, refusing to lockdown, and never instituting a mask mandate. In fact, on those issues, she led other GOP governors. For that, she deserves praise. Economically, she’s also done well.

She’s not perfect, though, and I have no problem with someone lodging a complaint against her position on vaccine mandates. I don’t think repeating platitudes about not telling private businesses what to do is sufficient. At the very least, harsh denunciations from the bully pulpit should follow. Further, it should be made clear that when it comes time for government subsidies and “investment,” no company that mandated vaccines will be considered. In other words, I’m saying there are things that can be done without overstepping legal boundaries. The left isn’t going to stop and Republicans can’t either. Play hardball or lose the game.

And while I understand wanting to respond to Walsh the first time around, Noem went at him again in what I think wasn’t a politically smart move.

I’m pretty sure a staffer is running that account, but either way, there needs to be some recognition of political reality here. Republicans are not on board with the federal government using private companies to mandate the COVID vaccine by proxy, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Given that, the right move here for Noem is to just let it go. She can make her decision and people can disagree, but leaning into an unpopular position this hard, seemingly taking shots at DeSantis and Abbott as not being conservative for banning mandates, is just not a good look.

Again, as I’ve said before, I like Noem in general. No Republican is perfect, and if we are going to start applying purity tests, a lot of people (including those at the top like Trump) aren’t going to pass them. Still, she needs to be politically smarter than this.