South Dakota Dems Have a Theory About Kristi Noem’s Flackery

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Kristi Noem’s smile set political teeth chattering across South Dakota and the nation this week. Her feet soon followed.

The Republican governor’s odd infomercial-style post about an out-of-state dentist that did work on her mouth, followed by a video endorsing a shoe company, has some locals scratching their heads and wondering if she’s trying to get the attention of one Donald Trump—who hasn’t yet picked a running mate.

“It’s so hard to know these days where she’s getting direction and inspiration, but I have to believe Trump or Noem’s and her staff’s desire to please Trump are behind it somehow,” said Kevin Woster, a longtime political reporter with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

“Or maybe it’s simply Noem’s need to look better for the national spotlight she seems to crave, although I thought her smile was just fine before.”

Brian Bengs, a retired Air Force colonel who ran as a Democrat for a U.S. Senate seat and lost in 2022, had the same theory.

“Not only will this increase her chances of being selected as Trump’s running mate, but I believe it was done precisely for that reason,” he said.

He noted that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway endorsed Ivanka Trump’s fashion products in a 2017 television interview leading to a sales bump.

“There was a firestorm about the clear ethics violation and the president backed her up to preclude any disciplinary action,” Bengs said. “Kristi is demonstrating that she has no reservations about shilling any Trump or Trump ally’s product as vice president. He now knows she will help him make more money as president.”

Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

It’s not clear if Noem is on Trump’s shortlist for vice president, but her ardent support of him—remember the Mount Rushmore fireworks show for him?—and her full-fledged embrace of MAGA has certainly raised her national profile.

Which is why national headlines followed when she posted a video on Facebook, X, Truth Social, and Instagram this week of a dental procedure she had done in Texas to repair damage from a bike accident.

“I love my new family at Smile Texas!” Noem wrote on her personal, not official, account. “The video says it all, and I am so grateful for their help fixing my smile for me.

“The team here was remarkable and finally gave me a smile that I can be proud of and confident in, and that really is a gift that I think is going to be incredibly special to have. I chose the team here at Smile Texas because they’re the best.”

Ethical questions were immediately raised. A consumer advocacy group, Travelers United, filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C, alleging she was advertising a product “without disclosing that she has a financial relationship with that company.”

Then on Thursday, Noem posted a video endorsing a South Dakota shoe called Fit My Feet, saying they did “amazing work to make custom insoles.”

“Just wait… I’m gonna be so fast!” she wrote.

State Sen. Reynold Nesiba, one of just 11 Democrats in the 105-member South Dakota Legislature, called on the Government Operations & Audit Committee, which he serves on, to look into the matter.

“I just thought it was a very strange video about how much she enjoyed having her teeth done at that particular place,” Nesiba told the Associated Press.

The committee, dominated by Republicans, declined to schedule an investigation. “I’ve looked into this and there is no basis for GOAC to take this up. No state funds were used and the state plane wasn’t used. I’m told it was done with her personal funds,” Chairman Ernie Otten wrote in an email to committee members. “I have no intent to add a GOAC mtg for this complaint.”

Northern State University political science professor Jon Schaff said he was surprised by the uproar.

“This whole thing strikes me as a proverbial tempest in a teapot. I wish that the biggest problem facing South Dakota is who whitens the governor’s teeth,” Schaff said. “Noem is getting national attention as a potential running mate for Donald Trump. Her opponents are grasping at anything to rough her up.”

But he acknowledged that by his memory, no other South Dakota politician had done anything like Noem’s flackery.

“I think it is odd that a sitting governor would engage in a kind of product endorsement more typical of a celebrity or an athlete,” Schaff said. “I don’t know that I would call it improper, which suggests unethical, but perhaps governors should be more statesmanlike rather than using their notoriety to sell a commercial product.”

State Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, pointed out that Noem also endorsed a Spearfish coffee shop, Common Grounds, on Thursday. And she noted that her attention-getting posts came ahead of a trip to Ohio to appear at a rally with Trump.

“She can show off her new teeth,” Duba quipped.

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