The Takedown of SD Gov. Kristi Noem Ramps up, But What Does It Portend?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

There are several stories that have legs swirling around South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and any one of them could knock her out of the running for a second term as governor, or any higher office in 2024.

The first one centers around an American Greatness article that relies on unnamed sources, alleging that Noem has been having an affair with former advisor to President Donald J. Trump, Corey Lewandowski. Both Noem and Lewandowski are married.

Lewandowski is also making the news again because the wife of a GOP donor has accused him of sexually harassing her. Politico details (with actual sources) the allegations by Trashelle Odom, and mentions that Lewandowski is no longer steering the Make America Great Again Super PAC. Trump loyalist and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has now stepped into the role.

It is Lewandowski’s close ties to the 45th president that has allowed him to use that influence to promote Noem as a possible vice presidential pick, should Trump run again in 2024.

Noem, a married mother of three, has been eyed as a possible running mate for a Trump presidential bid in 2024. Bloomberg reported in March that Trump’s closest advisors are pushing either for a black or female vice presidential candidate. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Noem have both been named among the favorites by members of Trump’s inner circle.

On March 5, Donald Trump, Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle hosted a fundraiser for Noem at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and home in Palm Beach. Noem was invited to a second fundraiser there in April. Lewandowski has played a key role in boosting Noem’s clout with Trump.

In a brief interview with the New York Times, Lewandowski praised Noem as having “a huge future in Republican politics.” But these recent revelations, in combination with other challenges, threaten her chances of winning a ticket to the White House.

“There are members of Congress close to Mar-a-Lago who have called the affair ‘an open secret’ and worried that about Noem’s viability as a national candidate and within the movement,” a source familiar with the matter told American Greatness.

Noem categorically denies the story and the affair, as The Washington Post notes:

South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) on Wednesday dismissed a conservative media outlet’s claim that she is having an extramarital affair with Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump adviser who is also advising Noem.

“These rumors are total garbage and a disgusting lie,” Noem said in a tweet. “These old, tired attacks on conservative women are based on a falsehood that we can’t achieve anything without a man’s help. I love Bryon. I’m proud of the God-fearing family we’ve raised together. Now I’m getting back to work.”

[…]

Noem and Lewandowski have traveled extensively together across the country for political events, and he has promoted her to members of the media. At one event in January, they were spotted partying together late in a hotel bar.

Today, Governor Noem’s advisor Ian Fury issued a statement, saying Lewandowski will no longer be an advisor to Noem.

While even rumors can do swift work to blemish Noem’s national profile, her re-election as governor of South Dakota is also experiencing some flinging mud.

The Associated Press reported on Governor Noem, Noem’s daughter Kassidy Peters, and a “retired” former state official who initially denied Peters a real estate appraiser’s license:

Just days after a South Dakota agency moved to deny her daughter’s application to become a certified real estate appraiser, Gov. Kristi Noem summoned to her office the state employee who ran the agency, the woman’s direct supervisor and the state labor secretary.

Noem’s daughter attended too.

Kassidy Peters, then 26, ultimately obtained the certification in November 2020, four months after the meeting at her mother’s office. A week after that, the labor secretary called the agency head, Sherry Bren, to demand her retirement, according to an age discrimination complaint Bren filed against the department. Bren, 70, ultimately left her job this past March after the state paid her $200,000 to withdraw the complaint.

Exactly what transpired at the July 27, 2020, meeting in the governor’s office isn’t clear. Noem declined an interview request and her office declined to answer detailed questions about the meeting.

In an interesting twist, the Republican SD Atty. General Jason Ravnsborg has decided to look into the meeting, according to the AP:

“I have been contacted by concerned citizens and legislators,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg said in a statement. “I am actively reviewing their concerns and I will be following the steps prescribed in codified law in relation to those questions.”

Ravnsborg didn’t immediately respond to a question about what steps he might take. The attorney general is tasked under state law with issuing legal opinions to lawmakers.

“Concerned citizens and legislators.” One wonders if this will be the beginning of a floodgate, since ethics violations are often death by a thousand papercuts. Remember former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin?

AG Ravnsborg is in some trouble of his own. On September 12, 2020, Ravnsborg’s vehicle hit a man (whom he thought was a deer), and he left the scene. The man died, and Ravnsborg faced criminal charges. In August, Ravsnborg pleaded no contest, was fined $500 and required to pay $3,000 to cover the cost of securing the crash scene. While Ravnsborg avoided jail time, the victim’s family plans to file a civil suit for wrongful death, and Ravnsborg could face impeachment.

While the AG has his job to do as the legal representative of the citizens of South Dakota, and a check on the governor, Ravsnborg comes off as compromised as Noem is currently appearing.

Also today, The Center for Public Integrity has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense, and the South Dakota National Guard, seeking the release of public records surrounding Noem’s decision at the end of June to deploy the National Guard. The goal was to assist TX Governor Greg Abbott with the illegal alien overflow at the Texas-Mexico border. Noem chose to use funds given by a Republican donor to pay for the deployment of up to 50 service members.

The Center for Public Integrity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense and South Dakota National Guard on Wednesday seeking public release of records related to a decision by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to deploy the Guard to the Texas-Mexico border earlier this year that raised issues about private funding of military actions and use of the military for political purposes.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., contends that the Department of Defense and South Dakota National Guard are required under the Freedom of Information Act to produce documents related to the deployment and a private donation from billionaire used car auction entrepreneur Willis Johnson and his wife Reba that funded it.

While this may well be a potential blemish on Noem’s record, with the fallout from Afghanistan, and the state of our military and its senior leaders, the appearance of this action could be worse than the actual substance—if there is any substance at all. If the Center for Public Integrity is concerned about “private funding of military actions and use of the military for political purposes,” then a deployment of 50 National Guards members to the border is small potatoes compared to what happened with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, stationing National Guard troops around the Capitol for months on end after the January 6 kerfuffle — not to mention what is happening with the politicization of our military on a national scale under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley.

The Biden-Harris administration and the Democrat Party agenda is imploding across several fronts, so Republicans are shoring up their arguments and strongest candidates in order to take back the House in 2022 and the presidency in 2024.

Many eyes are on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who seems to be the odds-on favorite for a 2024 presidential run. Noem was also considered a contender, but since her appearance at CPAC in February, Noem has had a series of decisions and missteps that has certain Republicans and conservatives questioning her credentials and ability to lead. Now the allegations and hit pieces have moved from drip, drip, drip, to gusher stage. Is this the GOP establishment culling the herd? Has Noem been determined a weak link to their aspirations and therefore expendable? Or is it the Democrats seeking to capitalize on chinks in Noem’s armor, and the divide between one sector of the Republican Party and Trump Republicans, in order to eliminate Noem’s strong presence on the national stage?

I find it interesting that, save for a podcast interview with Governor Noem, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has been radio silent. I also find it interesting that self-styled conservatives like Kristi Noem appear to shoulder these attacks alone, while neocon establishment types like WY Rep. Liz Cheney receive vocal and financial support from Republican quarters.