South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is learning that lesson the hard way as she has come under withering attention of late — right as she begins to be regarded as a potentially strong 2024 candidate for the Republican presidential nominee.
First came reporting from The Associated Press on Monday that Noem had set up — and attended — a meeting with her daughter, Kassidy Peters, who was facing the denial of her certification to become a real estate appraiser when the meeting took place, and several top state officials, including the agent in charge of giving out those licenses. Peters was subsequently approved for it several months later after completing additional licensing requirements.
Noem’s office declined to answer detailed questions about the meeting. A spokesman for Noem said that “The Associated Press is disparaging the Governor’s daughter in order to attack the Governor politically — no wonder Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low.”
On Wednesday, Noem tweeted that she “never asked for special treatment for Kassidy. Others went through the same process that Kassidy did.” She has also stated that she has tried for years to “fix” how difficult it is to become an appraiser in South Dakota and pointed to legislation she recently signed on the process.
Despite the denunciations, the story isn’t going away anytime soon. South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican, said earlier this week that his office is looking into the meeting and “will be following the steps prescribed in codified law in relation to those questions.”
(Worth noting: Noem had called on Ravnsborg to resign in February following a September 2020 accident in which he hit and killed a pedestrian. Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges in August to avoid a trial.)
Then, even as Noem was trying to get out from under that cloud, came a report Wednesday from American Greatness, a conservative website, that Noem has been having an affair with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Noem, inexplicably, provided fuel for the rumor when she responded to it via tweet. “These rumors are total garbage and a disgusting lie,” she wrote. “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 her husband, Bryon, have been married since 1992 and have three children. CNN has reached out to Lewandowski for comment.
CNN hasn’t verified all of the AP reporting and the American Greatness screed got little pickup until Noem denied it. But the twin hits against Noem come after months of positive publicity for her in Republican circles. Noem has aggressively worked to position herself as the female Trump over the past year — railing against everything from Covid-19 mitigation efforts to, um, Lil Nas X’s sneakers.
While Noem insists her only focus is on running for reelection in South Dakota in 2022 — a race likely to be a cakewalk given the state’s strong GOP lean — her extensive out-of-state travel suggests otherwise. She’s made stops in critical early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina and campaigned in Georgia during the runoff elections there earlier this year.
Seeking a national profile — and potentially exploring a 2024 bid — are a double-edged sword for every politician. Putting yourself out there as a future leader of a national party necessarily means that you are going to get a lot more attention — not all of it good.
Successful national politicians find ways to ride that wave, minimizing the damage done to their ambitions along the way.
These new headlines present Noem with the first major challenge of her effort to become a leading voice in the GOP over the next few years. And they send a very clear message: None of this is easy.