The Republican governor of South Dakota endorsed President Donald J. Trump in his campaign to return to the White House on January 20, 2025, at a fundraiser rally hosted by the South Dakota Republican Party in Rapid City’s Monumental Center—setting up governor for a possible vice-presidential nod.
“He has my full and complete endorsement for President of the United States of America,” said Gov. Kristi Noem, who wore a dark blue sleeveless pencil dress. “I’ll do everything I can to help him win and save this country. Ladies and gentlemen, the 45th and the 47th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”
The ONLY person in this race who will put America back on its foundation is @realDonaldTrump.
He has my full and complete endorsement. I will do everything in my power to help him win to save this great country. pic.twitter.com/9zn5yxjSRG
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) September 9, 2023
The governor spoke for roughly 20 minutes before endorsing and introducing the president. In her remarks, she told South Dakota Republicans that other candidates were invited to the fundraiser, but only Trump accepted the invitation. “All of them told us that they had better things to do.”
She said she got questions from people all over the nation about the rally.
“They wanted to know why would he waste his time in the middle of a presidential race to go to a small insignificant state like South Dakota?–somebody really asked me that,” she said. “That conversation went south pretty quickly.”
Then, the governor teased the audience with speculation that she would serve as the vice president with Trump.
“Another question they asked is: ‘Is President Trump going to pick you–as the most popular and favorite governor?’ I said: ‘Yes.’”
As soon as the president took the stage, supporters behind him started holding “Trump-Noem” signs as if it was already the general election ticket.
Brian H. Darling, a longtime senior Senate staffer now working as a political consultant, said Noem is now part of the conversation for vice president.
“As governor, she was strong against lockdowns and has a stellar record on core conservative issues,” he said.
“The benefit she brings to a ticket is that she has a great story to tell and will match up favorably to the unpopular Vice President Kamala Harris,” he said.
The governor said she admires the president, who remains a mystery to his opponents and the media.
“Some people can’t figure out his popularity; why are people so loyal to him,” she said.
“I’m convinced it’s because we have never seen anything or anyone like him ever before, and we’ve certainly never seen anyone like him serve in public office before,” Noem said.
“He is unapologetically himself. He’s real, he’s genuine,” she said. “He never pretends to be something that he’s not—and those who hate America know that he will fight every single day to stop them from destroying this country.”
“I’m thrilled to be back with thousands of hardworking God-fearing patriots in the heartland of America,” said Trump.
“I want to thank one of the most successful governors in the entire nation, an incredible person, South Dakota’s own Kristie—no, thank you, Kristi,” the president said.
“You already found this out, but Kristi is a warrior for American values,” he said. “She’s tough on China, and unlike other governors, she never locked down South Dakota.”
Trump often turned to speak directly to the governor. “Kristi, I’m truly honored to receive your endorsement very much so. I appreciate it. Thank you very much. It’s a great honor.”
Addressing the crowd: “I get endorsements, some good, some bad. I get endorsements. Some don’t mean anything. Hers means a lot.”
Noem makes allusions to DeSantis’ COVID-19 record, braces for endorsement blowback
Noem did not mention Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis by name. Still, she very much could have been referring to DeSantis when she criticized Trump opponents for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noem did not shut down South Dakota, but DeSantis, the only Trump rival serving as a governor during the pandemic, did allow Florida counties to make rules locally.
“Some of them talk pretty tough, but where were they when the pandemic was raging?” she asked. “When leaders were taking away people’s constitutional rights because the government told folks that they couldn’t gather together?”
Noem said constitutional rights were ignored. “People lost their freedom of assembly because the government told people they couldn’t go to church. People lost their freedom of religion.”
The governor said other leaders were afraid.
“They were cowering, or worse yet, they were locking down their own people. They were pushing mandates,” she said. “They were closing beaches, even arresting people for taking a spring break.”
No one missed the mention of beaches.
Noem said she has been attacked politically and personally and that her endorsement of the president means she expects more of the same.
“I will be attacked for speaking the truth to all of you tonight,” she said.
“I expect that Joe Biden, these candidates, their political operatives, and the media will perpetuate ugly, hateful misinformation in an attempt to destroy me in my family because of our opinions,” she said.
“It’s nothing new, and frankly, I’m getting pretty used to it,” she said.
GOP operative: Noem, Trump have magic together
The event’s first 6,000 tickets were sold out almost immediately, and the party added more tickets, so the actual sellout was more than 7,000 tickets. Tickets ranged from $25 to $25,000 packages for the VIP reception with the governor and the president.
One measure of the trip’s significance to the Trump campaign is that two of his most senior aides, Chris LaCivita and Brian Jack, made the trip.
A national Republican operative who was in the room where it happened said the seats were packed out, and hundreds of people were standing in open spaces on the arena floor.
“I hate to use the word magic, but it’s just some magic between the two of ’em,” he said. I just think it’s, who knows what’s going to happen, but certainly, there’s, I think, some chemistry between the two of them.”
“I just think they really kind of feed off each other, and it’s just something I think’s different, and so I think that that was at play,” he said.
“He came in 18, the weekend before her election, which was really close. I mean, it was a close election or first one, so he came in, basically helped her win, and then Mount Rushmore,” the operative said.
Beyond the support for the party and Trump that made the event a success, the operative said he was impressed by how well Trump and Noem work together and their teams work together.
AWOL: Thune, Rounds, Johnson
Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines was the only politician from outside the state to speak at the rally besides Trump. Daines is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and he endorsed the president in April.
Daines said he had fond memories of working with Noem on Capitol Hill and was proud of her job as governor.
The senator’s presence also highlighted the absence of the state’s own senators, John Thune, the minority whip and the No. 2 in the GOP’s Senate leadership, and Michael Rounds. Both men endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R.-S.C.). Rounds was the first senator to endorse Scott and he refuses to commit to Trump if he is the nominee.
Also missing was the state’s Republican at-large congressman, Rep. Dusty Johnson. Johnson was critical of Trump’s handling of the reported results of the 2020 presidential campaign, but he did not vote to impeach the president. In 2022, he survived a Trump-backed primary challenge.
There was no better example of the chasm in the Republican Party than the scene at the Rapid City rally with the local party leaders and the rank-and-file cheering Trump, while the state’s entire Capitol Hill delegation, all Republicans, played hookie.
Trump delivers rollicking speech to sold-out arena
The president also recalled to the crowd his July 3, 2020, speech at Mount Rushmore that seemed to revitalize his reelection campaign. After months of COVID-19 restrictions on his campaign, the president held a June 20, 2020, rally in Tulsa as his return to holding rallies, but that rally’s execution and turnout was a significant disappointment.
Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore, hosted by Noem and attended by thousands, was a shot in the arm for the campaign building momentum into the National Republican Convention, held virtually in late August.
The bump from the Mount Rushmore speech was positive enough for the president to dismiss Brad Pascale as his campaign manager on July 20, 2020, without seeming like an act of weakness.
“We’re going to take back the White House and we’re going to make America great again, so three years ago I traveled to South Dakota to deliver a very historic address,” he said. “It turned out people love that speech.”
The president basked in the cheers when he mentioned the speech, and he called out to Noem, sitting just offstage: “Is there a better place in the world to make a speech, Kristi? I don’t think so.”
Then, Trump turned back to the audience and took a shot at people who want to tear Mount Rushmore down.
“Even though you do have the lunatics that would like to chop it up and knock it down, that’s not happening. I wouldn’t want to be them.”