In friendly MAGA territory, Kristi Noem tries to push past book blowup

Noem told the crowd that she was a “good investment” who doesn’t “know how to lose.”

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — Kristi Noem may have finally gotten a shot at launching the Republican running mate tryout she was angling for before her book blew it all up. And she went right to an audience of the MAGA faithful to do it.

In a bid to get back on track from the book backlash, the South Dakota governor on Monday spoke before Club 47, a Donald Trump fan club, aiming to make the case for herself as a “good investment” and someone who would do “everything I can” to help Trump get reelected.

“I’ve won 12 campaigns now,” she said. “So, I don’t know how to lose. I just win. That’s all we do.”

Noem faced several tense interviews and outcry from both sides of the aisle in recent weeks after an excerpt from her “No Going Back” book leaked in which she admitted to killing her unruly 14-month-old dog, Cricket, in a gravel pit 20 years ago. She has consistently defended her choice in interviews, but in the past week pulled back on some appearances.

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But on Monday night, nearly every seat in the ballroom was filled with Trump fans at a Hilton about 2.5 miles from Mar-a-Lago. The audience laughed at her jokes, clapped at her bravado and often murmured in agreement. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was in the audience. At least one attendee even brought her dog and sat in the third row.

“This book is a little unfiltered,” Noem said before attendees who’d received a signed copy of the political memoir with entry tickets. “I hope you’re ready for it.”

During her speech, Noem bragged about keeping her state open during the Covid pandemic, signing restrictions on transgender women’s participation in sports and sending the national guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. She repeatedly praised Trump and highlighted the bond she said the two shared, recounting at one point how they rail against the media together “all the time.”

She also tucked in a thinly veiled dig at other prospective candidates rumored to be in consideration as Trump’s running mate, specifically criticizing those who’d mounted a run against him and thought they’d “do a better job.”

“Now they’re back on your team, aren’t they — begging for help?” she said she told Trump. “‘Oh, Mr. President, we think you’re so fantastic,’” she continued, impersonating other politicians. “Why would you run against him then? He obviously was the right plan from the beginning.”

Noem is already considered an unlikely contender to be Trump’s running mate, POLITICO previously reported, though she did appear at a Republican National Committee fundraiser in Palm Beach earlier this month alongside other GOP politicians considered to be on Trump’s short list, such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and J.D. Vance of Ohio. During that event, Noem cast herself as a victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by liberals and the media.

Noem wrote in her book that she included the Cricket anecdote to show that she was willing to do anything “difficult, messy and ugly.” But she has also come under fire for other sections, including an interaction with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley that Noem viewed as threatening and another account that will be deleted, in which she claimed to have met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. On Monday, Noem cast the backlash as a media attack before moving on to the book’s content and her record as governor.

“You have all seen them spin stories and lie, and what they said about me and what’s in this book — and it’s not the truth,” she said. “It’s absolutely not the truth. Read this book and know that I stand behind this book, and it tells the truth about hard decisions.”

The Noem speaking event had been sold out on April 18, per a Club 47 email sent to supporters, but that was before the dog-killing excerpt from Noem’s book leaked to The Guardian. On Sunday, Club 47’s Facebook page posted a notice that more tickets were available.

Club 47 president Larry Snowden said the room fit a crowd of 1,000 people. He estimated that only about 15 people had pulled out — but he didn’t poll them as to the reason — and added that the leftover tickets sold within 15 to 20 minutes.

“Our attendance wasn’t hurt,” he said.

The Trump-devoted audience seemed enamored with Noem, but not necessarily as Trump’s running mate. Debra Tomarin of Palm Beach, the woman who brought her dog — a rescue from from Puerto Rico — said she preferred Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

“Most people that are animal lovers wouldn’t vote for her. … Some things you just don’t put in a book,” she said.

Tomarin said she liked Noem, especially the way she left her state open from the start of the Covid pandemic. She came to the event because she wanted to see the governor and maybe even ask her to explain the part of the book she found distressing.

“I made sure the dog was visible,” she said of her decision to sit near the front of the stage.

Other attendees brushed off the story. “She’s a rancher — that’s what they do,” said Gina, who requested to share only her first name. Mary, who also shared only her first name and said she’s been to every Club 47 event since the fan club started, showed POLITICO a photo she took after the event with Noem, whom she called a “real MAGA.”

“She was honest,” Mary said. “She didn’t try to hide it.”