Inside the one-way feud between Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not even declared whether he will run for president in 2024, and Donald Trump has tried to refrain from going after his top GOP rival, but the former president’s allies are already mounting an offensive — with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem now leading the charge.

Noem may be interested in running for president herself, and therefore she would have good reason to go after DeSantis, but she may also want another role: Trump’s vice president.

Earlier this month, Noem’s press secretary, Ian Fury, took a shot at DeSantis seemingly out of nowhere. Fury sent a follow-up email to National Review for an article apparently about “transgender lobby’s outsized influence in South Dakota.” Fury went on a tirade – against DeSantis.

“Governor Noem was the only governor in America on national television to defend Dobbs decision,” Fury said, referring to the Supreme Court decision that overturned federal abortion protections. “Where was Gov. DeSantis? Hiding behind a 15-week ban. Does he believe that 14-week-old babies have no right to live?”

Kristi Noem manages to make Ron DeSantis look less terrible

After cruises to re-election by almost 20 points without facing a primary challenge or having to do a single interview with an unfriendly conservative media, DeSantis now faces his first real test from the right — this largely one-way feud with Noem.

“I think what Noem gets out of this is to curry favor with Trump and raise her stock as a potential VP pick,” one Republican strategist told The Daily Beast, adding that Trump advisers see Noem as “the ideal person for them” to perform. MAGA black ops mission against Florida governor.

DeSantis has consistently rounded the top two spots among GOP presidential primary voters, trading places back and forth with Trump. The Sunshine State governor recently drew comparisons to John F. Kennedy—not for the first time— after Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis wore a mint green dress to her inauguration on Jan. 3, a eerily similar to one of Jackie Kennedy’s outfits from the Camelot era.

And so, as DeSantis’ star burns brighter, Trumpworld is looking for someone to dim the light — which is where Noem comes in.

Noem has Trump’s blessing to take some photos across the DeSantis arch, according to three GOP sources with behind-the-scenes knowledge of the spat. And Noem’s efforts have not gone unnoticed as Trump continues to fill his VP shortlist.

When asked for their thoughts on the DeSantis-Noem dust-up, a source close to Trump simply responded with a popcorn emoji before later elaborating.

“Any seasoned primary campaign manager will tell you that arguments between potential opponents are best left to fester, fester and dissipate,” Trump’s longtime friend told The Daily Beast.

“This is where you go to Costco to buy cases of microwave popcorn and distribute them to the staff with instructions to pop, spread and enjoy quietly.”

The New Hampshire GOP is hungry for DeSantis, but he’s making them wait

The seemingly random – and gratuitous – shot from Noem’s camp is believed in Republican circles to be about more than just a rogue spokesman whose last name might even be a little over the top for Nathaniel Hawthorne. (Fury, who cut his political teeth as a spokesman for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), did not return a request for comment.)

Beefing with other governors became something of a specialty for DeSantis during the height of the pandemic. But in this case, he faces incoming attacks from within the GOP in an effort to “tickle” his supporters over abortion and “chip away at the governor from the right,” according to a Republican operative familiar with the dispute, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive internal conversations.

It also tests the DeSantis camp’s theory of the case about running an extremely online communications operation based on owning libs and cutting off any access that non-conservative outlets have come to expect from a Florida governor.

“This is a 2024 move, I think you have to look at it through that lens,” the strategist said. “I think she’s showing here that DeSantis is more tenuous than people think he is. He’s never actually been tested on the national stage. He’s had all the controlled environments of conservative press.”

For Noem, the flick at DeSantis “offers a VP play at max-minimum, which is an advantage with Trump.”

The strategist added that there are concerns about the DeSantis communications shop being “too online” and more focused on Twitter battles than a more comprehensive messaging strategy.

Brad Coker, a longtime Florida pollster with Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, told The Daily Beast that while DeSantis has not faced this kind of insult from his right before — with the only comparable example Roger Stone tried him ahead of the 2022 midterms – that’s something he’ll have to learn to cope with.

“Locally, it looks like ignoring Kristi Noem is the smart thing to do at this point. She’s not a Tier 1 candidate,” Coker said. “If I was advising DeSantis, I’d just go back to trying to get Disney land from them without realizing it.”

Coker added that DeSantis still mixes it up with the Tallahassee press corps from time to time, but eventually has to start facing the heat from the big national outlets.

DeSantis fired him over abortion. Now he fires back.

However, the abortion issue may be an ongoing sore point for DeSantis, the veteran said.

“The problem that Republicans have on the abortion issue is that there are kind of mixed messages out there about what is the quote unquote ‘correct position,'” Coker said. “It’s a circular firing right now on abortion.”

A GOP source close to DeSantis said his reputation remains strong among partisans, and he couldn’t think of another conservative coming out against the Florida governor the way Noem has.

“When I travel with RNC people from other states, I have never heard one negative thing about Mr. DeSantis ever,” the Florida operative said. “It’s unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Noem salvo also came with another warning sign, the first GOP strategist said.

“Politicians are afraid to answer the question about DeSantis and Trump — and many of them may be inclined to support DeSantis, but they won’t cross Trump. But people will attack DeSantis publicly,” this strategist said, adding that Trump after their opinion has defeated more talented foes like Sen. Marco Rubio and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

DeSantis Finally Fires Back at Trump: ‘Check the Scoreboard’

“DeSantis will realize very quickly, the closer you get to the water, you have to realize that Trump is still the king of this party,” the strategist continued. “And he may be holed up in Tallahassee with his Twitter trolls pumping him up and exhaling his praise. But you have to remember, people are going to root for Trump and do things for Trump. DeSantis doesn’t have the same type of following that Trump has have.”

While there may be benefit to Noem in raising her profile by going after DeSantis, Coker said Trump will need to pick a better proxy fighter to escalate things with the former president beyond his “scoreboard” comments post-midterms.

Reps for Noem and DeSantis did not return a request for comment, but their feud may also be more real and less calculated.

DeSantis and Noem both served in the US House of Representatives together. And while Noem was an ally of GOP leadership, DeSantis helped found the Freedom Caucus — the conservative group that has been a thorn in the side of recent Republican speakers. Despite being elected governor in the same election, the two have never been close.

Still, while Noem clearly has something to gain by going after DeSantis—Trump’s advantage—it doesn’t appear to be much of an advantage for DeSantis to get into a back-and-forth with Noem.

“He’s kind of in the catbird’s seat, at least for now,” Coker said. “Because now Trump is going to try to bait him and he’s not going to take the bait. So if you’re not going to take the bait from Trump, why would you take the bait from Noem?”

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