South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is expected to endorse former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in her home state Friday, two sources familiar with the plans tell CNN, fueling speculation about the role the Republican governor may play in his third bid for the White House.
Once a potential 2024 candidate herself, Noem initially inched away from Trump after last fall’s midterm elections and the launch of his latest campaign. She told The New York Times at the time that she didn’t believe the former president offered “the best chance” for the Republican Party in 2024.
However, the South Dakota governor has since changed her tune, opting out of a White House bid and offering support for Trump. But Noem is still angling to be in the 2024 discussion. She’s remained in contact and on good terms with the former president, according to sources familiar with their interactions. Though Noem didn’t attend last month’s first Republican presidential debate, ads touting her state’s low taxes and job openings aired during it and since then on Fox News.
Noem has another connection: Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager and confidant, has advised her since 2020. Lewandowski’s on-again-off-again relationship with the former president has leveled, according to sources, and he now regularly speaks to Trump.
“The fact is, none of them can win as long as Trump’s in the race. And that’s just the facts. So why run if you can’t win,” Noem, who has been in touch with Trump and his team, said of the former president’s primary rivals in an interview on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.”
While she is expected Friday to formally throw her support behind Trump – a move most other Republican governors have been reluctant to make so far – Noem has demurred on questions about her interest in the nation’s second-highest office.
“Of course, I would consider it,” Noem told Fox News host Sean Hannity recently when asked if she would be Trump’s vice president.
Noem’s office did not return a request for comment.
The steps Noem has taken to keep some of the 2024 spotlight on her has led some Republicans to see her as a strong potential running mate for Trump should he win the nomination.
“When [Noem’s] name comes up in conversation, it’s been positive,” one source close to Trump said. “She’s been loyal to him. She’s eloquent, she defends him but doesn’t steal the spotlight.”
Noem’s ambitions have been expansive for some time now. In 2016, she was vetted to be Trump’s secretary of agriculture before deciding against continuing that process. In 2022, as she was running for reelection, she opted to run digital campaign ads on Facebook in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – early-voting states that are conspicuously important for a presidential candidate. A former state lawmaker who also represented South Dakota in the US House for four terms, Noem flirted with running for US Senate in 2022 when it seemed like GOP Sen. John Thune wasn’t going to run for another term, according to two Republicans with knowledge of the governor’s moves at the time. Ultimately, Thune opted to run for reelection, and Noem chose not to jump into the primary, despite Trump publicly encouraging her to challenge the senator.
Now, the read among Republican operatives is that Noem is keeping the most likely potential avenues to serving in a Trump administration open – either as a vice president or a Cabinet official.
“I think she’s angling to keep all her options open. With everything being so fluid on the national stage, she has been very good about pushing her state as an example during Covid and all of these national hot-button issues. She’s kept her state at the forefront,” Republican strategist Matt Langston said. “She’s got a bright future. She’s sticking with Trump, which is smart at this stage.”
Langston added: “The timing seems right to get out and get into the mix on speculation on key Cabinet positions. If you wait and the field gets cleared – Trump is the nominee or it’s down to one or two – the value of being from a smaller state, a state where they are really not at everyone’s forefront, they’re not on the American public’s eye. This is a real good time for her to insert herself and show real value to the Trump campaign. It sets herself up nicely.”
Strategists do see some kind of federal office in the governor’s future. One Republican strategist with deep knowledge of South Dakota politics said Noem could primary GOP Sen. Mike Rounds when the two-term senator (a former governor himself) is up for reelection in 2026.
“My sense is Gov. Noem is not done with DC,” the strategist said. “If I was Mike Rounds, I would be looking over my shoulder.”
Angling to be the vice presidential pick
Trump advisers insist there have been no serious conversations with the former president about a potential running mate, although that hasn’t stopped Trump from fueling speculation.
“Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!” Trump posted on his Truth Social platform ahead of last month’s Republican primary debate, which he skipped. The former president has complained about many of the 2024 candidates and called them disloyal, offering little indication he would be willing to run alongside them.
Trump’s obsession with loyalty will be central to his potential running mate pick, particularly after what he perceives as betrayal from his former vice president, Mike Pence, two sources close to Trump said.
Trump has been known to float names of allies as potential running mates after spending time with them, only to never mention them again. He also has privately said he thinks it might be a good idea to pick a woman for the position, something many allies and advisers have encouraged.
A number of Trump allies appear to be maneuvering toward a position on his eventual vice presidential short list.
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik is always quick to defend Trump, endorsed him early and talks to the former president regularly, briefing him on happenings in the House. Trump has praised her privately for her loyalty.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has long been rumored to be angling to be Trump’s running mate – regularly attending his rallies and posting after his federal indictment in the 2020 election interference probe that she would still vote for Trump even if he were in jail.
When asked if he would be open to serving as Trump’s vice president or in a future Trump administration, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, whose endorsement of the former president over his home-state governor, Ron DeSantis, sent shockwaves through the Sunshine State, told CNN: “Look, who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t? That’s something where it’s really up to him and his team. I have no control over that. But for me and, you know, I told them this, I’m about winning. I just want to win and get this country back on track.”
Kari Lake, a former TV anchor who was the losing GOP nominee 2022 Arizona gubernatorial race, has become a staple in Trump world. While openly weighing a bid for the US Senate, she is also considered to be vying for a spot on Trump’s ticket.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Gov. Kristi Noem attended the August Republican presidential primary debate. She did not.