At the CPAC summit in Dallas, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem accused fellow Republican governors of whitewashing their COVID records, claiming that some are “rewriting history” and pretending that they never curtailed freedoms and shut down businesses.
“We’ve got Republican governors across this country pretending they didn’t shut down their states; that they didn’t close their regions; that they didn’t mandate masks, that they didn’t need to issue shelter in places,” Noem suggested in possible reference to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who imposed lockdowns at the genesis of the pandemic like other progressive states.
“Now I’m not picking fights with Republican governors. All I’m saying is that we need leaders with grit. That their first instinct is the right instinct. That they don’t backtrack and then try to fool you into the fact that they never made the wrong decision. So, demand honesty from your leaders,” the 2024 hopeful contender said.
DeSantis directed Floridians to remain indoors indefinitely on April 1 of 2020, but then lifted the order on April 29. In September, he removed all remaining restrictions on businesses, allowing restaurants and bars to again operate at full capacity. Noem touted her record during the pandemic, saying she managed the virus without dramatically interfering in citizens’ livelihoods and emphasizing that she never shut down a “single business” in her state.
“South Dakota did not do any of those (measures). We didn’t mandate. We trusted our people and it told them that personal responsibility was the best answer,” she said.
Noem never implemented even the minimum mask mandate, insisting that families could make “informed decisions for themselves,” she wrote in a piece for the Rapid City Journal. South Dakota sits behind Rhode Island and North Dakota in terms of most COVID cases per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
A spokesperson for Noem clarified her comments to the Daily Caller: “Governor Noem was not referring to any specific Republican governor. She was highlighting the need for strong leaders with the instinct to defend freedom.”
Since the pandemic struck, Noem has embodied a “live and let live” attitude to governing. At the CPAC conference in February, she urged the GOP to brand itself in a way that shows that conservatives “are not here to tell you how to live your life.”
As a prospective candidate for the 2024 Republican primary race, Noem has not yet declared her intentions to run for the office. Given former President Donald Trump’s potential reentry and DeSantis’ debut into the field, the competition is likely to heat up before the GOP ticket is determined.
Noem has faced backlash from conservatives and some Republican lawmakers recently after she vetoed South Dakota’s transgender sports bill, which aims to keep biological males out of women’s athletics. While she justified the move as a means to avoid punitive and expensive legal retaliation from advocacy organizations that could damage the state’s economy, proponents of the bill viewed Noem’s reversal as a capitulation to big business at the expense of conservative values.
In response to the criticism, Noem announced an initiative called “Defend Title IX Now,” described as “a coalition of athletes, leaders, and anyone who cares about defending fairness in women’s sports.”