'She killed her chances': Kristi Noem's odds dim of being Trump's VP pick, sources say

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(WASHINGTON) -- South Dakota's two-term Republican governor, Kristi Noem, has been widely promoted as a contender to be former President Donald Trump's 2024 running mate, with Trump himself saying that she was on his shortlist as of February.

"I like her a lot. I think she's great. Kristi's done a great job," he said last year.

But it appears that Noem is now on increasingly unsteady footing in Trump's eyes, in part because of a series of odd controversies and choices, multiple sources familiar with her and with Trump's deliberations told ABC News.

The negative headlines began in earnest in March, when a slickly produced video Noem released personally promoting an out-of-state dentist spurred a lawsuit claiming deceptive advertising -- and the scrutiny increased in recent days with the revelation in Noem's upcoming memoir that she chose to shoot one of her young dogs because she claimed it was "untrainable" and exhibited aggression.

(Noem's office has not commented to ABC News on the legal complaint related to the promotional video and she hasn't filed a response in court yet, records show.)

Those episodes, combined with what one of the sources familiar with the running mate talks called Noem's "over-auditioning" and questions about her judgment, appear to have seriously weakened her chances, at this point, of joining Trump's ticket.

"To a person, everyone agrees she killed her chances, pun intended," said Sean Spicer, Trump's first White House press secretary, who remains in touch with the former president's team.

"The bigger issue politically speaking is why anyone thought putting this in a book was a good idea -- editors, agent, etc.," Spicer added, referring to the anecdote about Noem's dog. "It's like a job applicant saying unprompted they stole office furniture during an interview."

Noem's office declined to comment for this story.

She has been open for months about her desire to join Trump as his running mate. In September, she said she would do it "in a heartbeat."

She was also an early Trump endorser, leaned into his no-holds-barred fighter mentality in her state and said she would back him even he were to be convicted of charges he faces in New York over 2016 hush money that prosecutors claim was paid to conceal allegations of an affair from voters. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

For a while, sources said, Noem's style and presentation helped keep her name in the conversation as a potential running mate despite some concerns about a past controversy involving how her daughter got a real estate license (Noem said she did nothing wrong and her daughter defended her "good name") as well as scrutiny of aspects of her personal life and whether she'd adopted too hard-line of a policy portfolio to help expand Trump's general election appeal beyond the GOP base.

But the talk around Noem began to turn in March after she published an unusual video on X endorsing, by name, the work she received from a Texas dentist.

That drew a lawsuit from the consumer advocacy group Travelers United under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, accusing her of "misleading" and "deceptive" advertising and claiming that Noem had a "financial relationship" with the dental practice and did not disclose such an agreement.

And then Noem stirred wider controversy through the weekend after an excerpt of her new memoir, set to be released next week, detailed her decision to kill her 14-month-old dog, Cricket, after Cricket demonstrated an "aggressive personality," including attacking a family's group of chickens, and being "out of her mind with excitement," Noem wrote in her book.

"I hated that dog," Noem wrote, calling Cricket "untrainable."

While the decision to personally shoot the dog was criticized by animal advocates as excessive and inhumane, Noem defended her choices and responded to the backlash by touting herself as a politically incorrect politician willing to be honest and make tough choices.

She said the decision to shoot Cricket was two decades ago.

"The fact is, South Dakota law states that dogs who attack and kill livestock can be put down. Given that Cricket had shown aggressive behavior toward people by biting them, I decided what I did," she wrote in a Sunday statement on X. "Whether running the ranch or in politics, I have never passed on my responsibilities to anyone else to handle. Even if it's hard and painful."

State law also makes it a misdemeanor for someone to keep a dog who "chases, worries, injures, or kills any poultry or domestic animal."

But Noem's explanation appeared to do little to allay growing worries about Noem among people around Trump.

"This is bad, this is dumb, she's disqualifying herself from the race, she clearly doesn't understand President Trump if she thinks doing these things that are garnering any type of media attention, whether it's negative or positive," said one person familiar, characterizing what they'd heard from Trump's aides..

This source, like others, asked not to be quoted by name in order to be more candid and because they weren't authorized to speak on the record.

"Multiple people in the Trump campaign said she's quickly disqualified herself," this person said of Noem.

Several sources who spoke with ABC News used the latest controversy to compare Noem to Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who was a rising Republican star widely regarded as ill-prepared for the national spotlight when she joined the 2008 GOP ticket as the vice presidential nominee alongside John McCain.

"It's always been under the radar, this Sarah Palin comparison, and this feels like this could be the sort of thing that continues to make that comparison stronger," one former Noem staffer said. "It's a question around -- can you be taken seriously at the national level when stuff like this is distracting from that?"

Other sources suggested that Noem was never in serious consideration to be Trump's vice president and that all the media attention around her prospects was driven by her own allies -- but that even so, her apparent eagerness for the job rubbed Trump the wrong way.

"She's over-auditioning," said a second source who has discussed the VP pick with Trump himself.

"Trump doesn't like that. He doesn't like obsequiousness. He doesn't like ubiquitousness," this person said. "And the other thing is, if you're overly auditioning for VP, no matter who you are, you're not helping Trump with his current pile of needs."

Trump has a well-known habit of keeping his circle and opinions of his allies in flux. Top advisers have been shunned, then brought back into the fold.

Defenders also pointed out, like Noem did, that her dog Cricket was a working animal, not a typical pet.

And, some of the sources who spoke with ABC News warned, advisers' worries matter little compared to the opinion of Trump himself, who is said to be reluctant to permanently expel people from his orbit.

"Anybody who thinks they know who the next vice president of the United States is going to be, if their name isn't Donald John Trump, is talking without any knowledge. Donald Trump has already said there is no perfect candidate, and his criteria as he has publicly stated is that the person is ready to go on day one and, more importantly, they help him win," said a third source familiar with the so-called "veepstakes."

The Trump campaign itself issued a similar statement for this story, with spokesperson Brian Hughes saying that "anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying, unless the person is named Donald J. Trump."

Beyond Noem, the longer list of contenders is thought to include Sens. Katie Britt, Ala., Marco Rubio, Fla., Tim Scott, S.C., and JD Vance of Ohio; Reps. Byron Donalds, Fla., and Elise Stefanik of New York; and Govs. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Arkansas' Sarah Sanders.

And Noem's apparent fall in contention will likely do little to blunt the jockeying to join Trump's ticket this November, particularly as the summer's national party convention nears -- with sources saying that's exactly how Trump wants it.

"Trump is very, very careful through his VP pick to not broadcast to the world, 'Herewith is the heir to MAGA,'" said the person who has discussed the issue with the former president. "He would prefer that everybody fight it out, to earn it to be the heir to the movement that he's built."

Wednesday, May 1, 2024 at 5:56PM by Tal Axelrod, ABC News Permalink