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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem calls out GOP governors who ‘shut down’ their states and mandated masks, accusing them of trying to revise history

  • Gov. Kristi Noem took a shot at other GOP governors for “rewriting history” after imposing COVID-19 restrictions.
  • “We’ve got Republican governors across this country pretending they didn’t shut down their states,” she said. 
  • Her comments could be directed at fellow conservatives and possible 2024 contenders Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In a Sunday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas, Gov. Kristi Noem accused GOP governors of “rewriting history” after having instituted COVID-19 restrictions like lockdowns and mask mandates.

“We’ve got Republican governors across this country pretending they didn’t shut down their states; that they didn’t close their beaches; that they didn’t mandate masks, that they didn’t issue shelter-in-place orders,” Noem said. “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 to make the right decision. That they don’t backtrack and then try to fool you into thinking they never made the wrong decision.”

She later tweeted: “South Dakota did not do any mandates. We trusted our people, gave them all the information and told them that personal responsibility was the best answer.”

Her comments are a possible shot at Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, two conservative Republican governors who imposed more COVID-19 restrictions — like regulations on businesses and mask mandates — than Noem.   

A Noem spokesperson subsequently told the Daily Caller that she wasn’t referring to any “specific” governor but was “highlighting the need for strong leaders with the instinct to defend freedom.”

Noem declared a state of emergency, ordered K-12 schools to temporarily close, and then issued a stay-at-home order for vulnerable South Dakotans in two counties at the start of the pandemic in early March and April. But she largely took a far more hands-off approach than other state leaders, issuing very few COVID-19 restrictions like requiring masks and restricting businesses, for example. She also greenlit the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 2020, which drew some 400,000 bike enthusiasts, and may have caused over 250,000 coronavirus cases and worsened outbreaks in several states in the Upper Midwest.

Read more: Where is Trump’s White House staff now? We created a searchable database of more than 327 top staffers to show where they all landed

South Dakota, which is far less populous than states like Texas and Florida, saw extraordinarily high cases per capita and test positivity rates during the winter surge of COVID-19.

Noem is highlighting her conservative bona fides as she positions herself for a potential 2024 presidential bid. Like DeSantis and Abbott, she’s sent down National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border, funded by a private donation in an arrangement that has drawn scrutiny from ethics watchdogs.

Former President Donald Trump, who also spoke at the Texas CPAC conference, easily won an unofficial and unscientific straw poll of attendees’ preferences for the 2024 Republican nominee, with 70% of respondents supporting him compared to 21% for DeSantis. No other GOP politician cleared more than 1% support of respondents. 

When attendees were asked who they would support if Trump didn’t run in 2024, DeSantis cleaned up with 68% of respondents listing him as their first choice for the GOP nomination compared to just 3% supporting Noem. 


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