Kristi Noem slams Covid shutdowns, defends South Dakota's record at CPAC


Potential 2024 presidential hopeful Gov. Kristi Noem defended South Dakota’s record on the coronavirus, railing against lockdowns in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday.

In her lengthy address, Noem argued that government, not the pandemic, “crushed” the reeling U.S. economy.

“The question of why America needs conservatives can be answered by just mentioning one single year, and that year is 2020,” Noem said. “Everybody knows that almost overnight we went from a roaring economy to a tragic, nationwide shutdown.”

Noem has fought against mask mandates and encouraged a large motorcycle rally that saw hundreds of thousands of people attend. South Dakota at times has struggled to contain the pandemic, having seen the most cases and deaths per capita among states in the country, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

Noem is staking herself firmly to the staunch pro-Trump lane among potential 2024 GOP contenders, many of whom have spoken at CPAC. She is meeting with donors in March at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, a fundraiser for her reelection bid and the first fundraising event of this cycle hosted by Donald Trump Jr.

In her speech Saturday, Noem often followed the Trump playbook, laying into Anthony Fauci, a favorite target among MAGA faithful, saying his predictions about South Dakota’s fate with the virus were too dire.

“I don’t know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot,” Noem said to raucous applause. She also called media coverage of her state’s coronavirus response “a lie,” while bashing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has come under fire for his nursing home policies.

Like many other CPAC speakers, Noem leaned heavily into culture wars, arguing there has been an “an organized, coordinated campaign to remove and eliminate all references to our nation’s founding and many other parts of our history.”

“To attempt to cancel the founding generation is an attempt to cancel our own freedoms,” Noem said. “Let’s always remember America is good. Freedom is better than tyranny. We are unique, we are exceptional, and no American should ever, ever apologize for that.”

She also called for a new playbook for conservatism, saying that traditional GOP campaign issues like cutting taxes and regulation “is not good enough anymore.”

“As conservatives, we often forget that stories are much more powerful than facts and statistics,” Noem said. “Our stories need to be told. It is the only way that we will inspire and motivate the American people to preserve this great country.”

In a crowded pack of potential contenders, Noem polled at 1 percent in a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult survey of voters’ preference for 2024.

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