Kristi Noem Seals Her Reputation as COVID’s Cartoon Villain
Her home state leads the country in new COVID cases per capita, but as the leading champion of unconscionably selfish recklessness masquerading as freedom, MAGA-world loves her.
President Trump was quarantined in the White House, but a trio of MAGA celebrities as strange as any three characters from the Star Wars bar was out there on his behalf on Thursday.
The star and perhaps most determinedly deluded figure in Trumpland was South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. She joined former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and one-time Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in addressing an overflow Operation MAGA event at a VFW hall in a Florida city whose mayor had just tested positive for COVID-19.
Noem’s home state now leads the country in new COVID cases per capita, but she remains the leading champion of unconscionably selfish recklessness masquerading as freedom. She is the bare-faced counterpart to pro-mask Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was the target of a far-right kidnapping plot busted up on Thursday by the FBI. Whitmer had begun successfully flattening her state’s pandemic curve in April when Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
Noem is a particular Trump favorite and she is likely to be the one to inherit his base. His tweet to her as her state's pandemic curve continued to rise read, “Great job South Dakota!” Noem tweeted in response, “Thank you, Mr. President, for giving South Dakota the flexibility to respect Freedom and personal responsibility. We based our decisions on science, facts, and data, and our people stepped up!”
If she and her supporters had really based their decisions on science, facts, and data, they would have all been wearing masks and practicing social distancing and South Dakota would be one of the states with the lowest incidence of new cases, not the highest.
Noem has nonetheless continued to rebuff calls for a mask mandate and routinely shrugs off social distancing. She endorsed the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where hundreds of thousands of largely mask-less people crowded together for 10 days, resulting in 290 confirmed COVID cases and perhaps tens of thousands more. She also approved an indoor concert that was then canceled when the health-care nonprofit that was somehow sponsoring the event regained its senses.
On top of all that, Noem used $5 million in COVID relief money on South Dakota tourism ads starring none other than... Noem. Her previous big ad campaign sought to curb the use of methamphetamine and had the unintentionally hilarious slogan, “Meth. We’re on it!” Her present campaign to get folks to visit the nation’s leading hotspot might as well be saying, “COVID. We got it!”
Noem told reporters earlier this week that she tested negative on Sept. 29 after attending a Minnesota fundraiser where Trump was present and that she did not intend to get retested before departing for Florida. She had not even taken that precaution as she stood bare-faced in VFW Post 7721 in Naples on Thursday afternoon. The crowd looked about the same size and appeared to be as casual about masking and social distancing as the Rose Garden event at the White House that has been linked to a slew of infections. At least the Rose Garden is outdoors.
Lewandowski allowed to a local reporter that he had recently been around some in the White House’s COVID cluster but had tested negative. Lewandowski then stepped up to the VFW’s podium and told the crowd that he had received Trump’s personal approval to assemble an army of supporters to carry forth his message while he was sidelined by the virus.
“Stand in the breach,” Lewandowski said.
When Noem’s turn came, she was welcomed as a kind of hero. She told the crowd that nobody had heard of her before the pandemic, but now she was renowned for championing freedom and individual responsibility.
“We never shut one business down,” she boasted. “Not one!”
The crowd applauded as if this were a victory. Noem did not mention her state's 25,006 COVID cases or the 258 deaths, 10 just the day before. Also not mentioned were the many likely disabled by the virus.
And nobody seemed to consider that if the Rose Garden event is a model, then at least 10 of the people at the VFW rally would be infected.
“If someone is concerned about these events, they can stay home,” Noem said.
The crowd then filed back out into Naples, which already has enough COVID-19 to worry about. The city’s mayor, Teresa Heitman, announced on Tuesday that she has COVID-19. She told the press her daughter tested positive on Oct. 1, but she herself tested negative the next day. She tested again on Monday and the result was positive. She said she was thankful that she had been taking the recommended precautions and did not seem to have infected anybody else.
That is not something Noem and the rest of Trumpworld’s answer to the Star Wars bar will likely be able say if they test positive. They are scheduled to be at another Operation MAGA rally on Friday in Miami.
Meanwhile, the case count keeps mounting in South Dakota.
“COVID. We got it!”