We can start by looking at which states had the worst rate of infection-- the number of cases per million residents. The top 10 (with restrictions/non-restrictions courtesy of the NY Times):
• Doug Burgum (R-ND)- 141,338
Burgum allowed a statewide mask mandate to expire in January. Business restrictions limiting capacity also became recommendations rather than requirements. Burgum announced in April that he would end the state’s Covid-19 emergency declaration at the end of the month. In late April, the state legislature overrode his veto of a bill that would ban statewide mask mandates
• Gina Raimondo (D-RI)- 139,882
Masks are mandatory indoors, most businesses are open at 80% capacity, although that becomes 100% May 28
• Kristi Noem (R-SD)- 138,652
Noem prohibited government offices from requiring businesses to provide proof of vaccination. Previously, she announced that she would not order a lockdown or a mask mandate such as those in other states. She encouraged super-spreader events that weren't just a disaster for her state but for states all around South Dakota.
• Kim Reynolds (R-IA)- 125,158
Reynolds removed a statewide mask mandate, along with certain gathering restrictions in February.
• Bill Lee (R-TN)- 124,090
In late April, Bill Lee ended statewide public health orders. He signed an executive order that removes local authority to issue county-level mask mandates.
• Spencer Cox (R-UT)- 124,061
Cox, who was booed by GOP delegates to their party's convention on Saturday, ended the statewide mask mandate on April 10. Masks are still required for gatherings of 50 or more people and in K-12 schools. Counties and local businesses can issue their own requirements. Cox condemned threats of violence against employees requiring customers to wear masks
• Doug Ducey (R-AZ)- 118,692
Ducey allowed bars to resume normal operations and lifted local mask mandates, starting March 25. He ordered schools to reopen for in-person classes by March 15.
• Pete Ricketts (R-NE)- 113,746
Ricketts announced that the state would move to the "green" phase on the state's color-coded restriction system in late January, removing the few remaining capacity limits on businesses.
• Kevin Stitt (R-OK)- 113,295
Everything's open; no mask mandates. Stitt updated guidelines for in-person visitation to long-term care facilities, about a year after visitation was first closed
• Henry McMaster (R-SC)- 112,703
Everything is open, no masks required.
Where's Ron DeSantis (FL), you ask? He has limited the rights of local governments to enforce restrictions tighter than the state’s, and has touted his role in keeping businesses open. DeSantis has issued an order prohibiting businesses from requiring that patrons provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination. Florida's numbers are doctored for political expediency, so completely inaccurate and untrustworthy. DeSantis is likely one of the the two or three worst governors in America-- just not by these stats.
How bad are those numbers? For the sake of comparison, here are some national totals of a dozen countries most people can relate to-- again cases per million residents:
If you want to see why I think Noem is the very worst from this pile of shit governors, click on the link on her name up above (never mind-- this link). But what made me bring this up was because she's becoming a more "credible" candidate for the GOP presidential/vice presidential nomination. "Credible," though in GOP-world is a funny thing and-- my guess is that it-- would make the candidate unelectable nationally. Jonathan Martin went up to Pierre, the tiny (pop.- 13,867) state capital, to report on her for The Times over the weekend. His point that "With Republicans hungry to cultivate their next generation of national leaders, it is not a Capitol Hill comer or a veteran battleground-state politician who is stirring interest by fusing Trumpism with a down-home conservatism spin. It is the first-term governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, a rancher who delights in sharing images of herself shooting pheasants and riding horses." Presumably by "Republicans" he has someone in mind in control of the party who is not Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy-- let alone, not Ted Cruz, not Josh Hawley, not Marco Rubio, not Rick Scott, not Señor T nor one of Señor T's spawn, not Tom Cotton, not Mitt Romney, not Rand Paul, not Mike Pence, not Liz Cheney... But I guess if you define "the Republicans" as the My Pillow guy, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Dan Bongino, Greg Abbott, Larry Hogan... you got something.
She may be a terrible governor, with a deadly pandemic but she certainly made a showy business of sucking up to Trump and, as Martin explained "Her defiance of coronavirus restrictions and her eagerness to project a rugged Great Plainswoman image helped her come in second in a 2024 straw poll of far-right conservatives looking for candidates if Mr. Trump doesn’t run again." (He forgot to mention that that and a token will get you a ride on the New York subway system for a full day... or longer if you choose.)
But her approach to politics has sometimes made for rocky relations with her base. Late last month, she got herself into a showdown with the Republican-controlled State Legislature over her veto of a bill barring transgender girls from school sports. And as some party leaders were pressing her to resolve that fight, she prompted eye-rolling at home by inserting herself in an unrelated skirmish-- over Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoes.”
“We are in a fight for the soul of our nation,” she wrote on Twitter, picking a fight with the rapper over his endorsement of $1,000 sneakers featuring a pentagram and, ostensibly, a drop of blood.
If Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is widely seen as the brash heir apparent to Mr. Trump, and senators like Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton are attempting to put a more ideological frame on Trumpism, Ms. Noem is trying to cement her place as the only female Trump ally echoing the former president’s trigger-the-left approach among the upper tiers of potential 2024 candidates.
But her stumble on the trans bill planted some doubts among social conservatives, and her appearances on Fox News most weeks and her time spent at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago fund-raising site have prompted griping in South Dakota.
At home, Ms. Noem’s apparent White House ambitions bother Republicans who want her focused on the state’s needs, even as some in the party relish the attention her rising profile is bringing to the tourism-dependent state.
She’s now on her fourth chief of staff in just over two years and has an increasingly awkward relationship with John Thune, South Dakota’s senior senator, and has favored the national party circuit over building relationships in the turn-of-the-century State Capitol in Pierre.
“Let’s focus on the state of South Dakota right now,” Rhonda Milstead, a Republican state representative, said in an interview between floor sessions on the so-called veto day. “And if you’re going to run for governor in 2022, let’s focus on our state. I voted for her when she ran because I believe she cared about the state of South Dakota, so let’s do it.”
...“It’s a contest about who can trigger the media and Democrats the most, and Noem is trying to get in that conversation,” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist and a veteran of presidential politics. “It’s, ‘Can I come up with something that’s going to inflame Rachel Maddow and raise awareness among conservatives because Fox will cover how much the left hates me?’”
In the post-Trump party, a willingness to confront the news media and do battle with the left, preferably in viral-video snippets, is more compelling to activists than amassing a record of achievement or painstakingly building coalitions. Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Ms. Noem received her loudest applause for saying that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci “is wrong a lot.”
Moreover, with Republicans having lost the presidency and both chambers of Congress after struggling among female voters, many in the party want to elevate a woman to their ticket in 2024, when Vice President Kamala Harris is likely to be the Democratic nominee for president or vice president.
...Despite the state’s high Covid death toll per capita, and the outbreak stemming from the Sturgis motorcycle rally that drew nearly 500,000 biker enthusiasts last fall, many Republicans in South Dakota believe that the governor’s opposition to shutdowns contributed to South Dakota’s lowest-in-the-country unemployment rate, kept tourists coming and made the state newly appealing to transplants.
Whether Ms. Noem ultimately lands on the 2024 ticket or not, she has made a name for herself nationally by recreating South Dakota as a sort of red-state oasis for visitors, new residents and businesses.
She won the governorship by just three and a half percentage points, a slim margin in a state that has not elected a Democratic governor since 1974. Her approval rating stood at just 39 percent at the end of 2019, according to a private Republican poll shared by a party official familiar with the results. By last June, three months into the virus outbreak, the same pollster found that 62 percent of the state’s voters approved of her performance.
...Noem plainly sees her opening as a Trump-of-the-prairie provocateur.
In addition to her ubiquity on Fox News-- one segment featured her escorting a network contributor on the state’s annual buffalo roundup-- she has taken to Twitter with gusto. And not just to troll rappers.
“This is how we do social distancing in South Dakota,” she wrote above a video of her shooting and downing a nearby pheasant, a clip that has drawn nearly seven million views.
She also starred in a tourism commercial that aired nationally last year during the Covid surge. “We’re open for opportunity-- and always will be,” Ms. Noem said as images of Mount Rushmore and galloping bison flashed on the screen.