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Has Kristi Noem fallen into the Sarah Palin trap?

Before she was picked as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, most who knew about Sarah Palin had a very healthy respect for her and her rise from small town mayor of Wasilla to governor of Alaska. It really was an impressive run. Back then, Palin was seen as tough, smart, charismatic populist.

Palin had not only defeated the establishment wing of the GOP, but the “Old Boys Network” as well, to become the first female elected governor of the state, as well as its youngest. The kind of accomplishments feminists and the left-of-center media would have been heralding nonstop had Palin been a Democrat.

But then McCain and his campaign waved its magic wand, and everything started to go south for the very competent Palin. Without getting into all the not-so-ancient history of that campaign, I have long believed the McCain campaign “leadership” left Palin to twist in the wind, and still owes her an apology for their incompetence.

That incompetence was on full display during the interviews Palin did in September of 2008, first with ABC’s Charlie Gibson and then NBC’s Katie Couric. And from those two mishandled interviews began Palin’s agonizing journey from “highly respected” to regularly mocked and smeared. No matter her real talent level, the negative perceptions of her soon became an unbreakable reality.

Flash forward 16 years and another attractive, gun-toting, rural Republican female governor is all over the news: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

Like Palin, Noem has been able to harness the momentum of a populist movement. For Palin, it was the Tea Party. For Noem, it has been Trumpism.

Both women have also faced charges of animal cruelty. For Palin, it was for aerial hunting of wolves. For Noem, it’s been about executing the family dog, Cricket.

Of the two, Noem’s transgression is by far the more disturbing and damaging. This bit of perceived animal cruelty is all the more injurious to Noem because she shot herself in the foot by highlighting the execution in her now massively underperforming book, “No Going Back.”

How in the world did Noem, her ghostwriter, her editor, her publisher and her publicists not stop for a second to think: “You know, maybe Kristi admitting to ‘hating’ and executing a family pet with gun may not go over so well with readers, interviewers and voters”?

More than that, did they not expect the political opposition — or media loyal to the political opposition — to gleefully jump all over the gunning down of Cricket by Noem?

Much of the narrative surrounding Noem has been that she took herself out of the running to be former President Donald Trump’s running mate because of the admission of perceived animal cruelty. If I were Trump, it would be Noem’s total lack of judgment or political instincts for including the pet hit job in the book in the first place that I would find disqualifying. If she can’t ace that “Politics and Human Nature 101” lesson, how can she claim to be ready to be one heartbeat away from the presidency?

All of this raises a question: With her bizarre admission, has Noem banished herself into the political wilderness? Will the ghoulish and unsettling dispatching of a young dog make Noem persona non grata to Trump and Republican voters?

As for former President Trump, the honest answer is: “You never know.” And anyone who claims to know is generally on the outside looking in. As for Noem and her book, Trump had glowingly endorsed it before publication, saying: “Governor Kristi Noem is a tremendous leader, one of the best. This book, it’s a winner. It exposes the problems we’re facing and lays out a fantastic plan to make America great again. You’ve got to read it!”

Now, did the former president know about the Cricket execution before endorsing? I will confidently state: not a chance.

That said, since this revelation came out, the former president has come to Noem’s defense in a fashion. “She had a rough couple of days. I will say that,” Trump said in an interview with Wisconsin’s Spectrum News 1. Asked about Noem’s vice-presidential chances now, Trump answered “I like her a lot,” before adding, “I don’t want to comment on anybody on the list.”

Long before this incident, I never believed Noem would be Trump’s pick. In January in this space, I speculated that Trump would pick North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — a belief others are echoing of late.

Trump, of course, will always march to the beat of his own drum. That said, I still don’t believe he will pick Noem. While his instinct may be to defend her, the execution of a dog many considered to still be a puppy will prove to be a bridge too far for untold voters.

While there are countless stories of “second acts” in politics and candidates coming back from the edge of the abyss, if Trump does not pick Noem, her political hunger and aspirations may be over. 

One could certainly build the case that in many ways Sarah Palin was — pun intended — hounded out of politics. In Noem’s case, it will be easy for many to believe she brought most of this upon herself. 

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

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