Kristi Noem and the politics of puppy killing

 Kristi Noem pictured in front of a microphone.
Kristi Noem pictured in front of a microphone.

"American voters have never been more polarised," said John Hendrickson in The Atlantic, but there's one thing they still all agree on: shooting puppies is wrong.

That much is clear from the outraged reaction to Kristi Noem's new political memoir. In "No Going Back", the governor of South Dakota – and would-be Trump running mate – recounts how she disposed of a rambunctious puppy named Cricket.

She describes how the "untrainable" 14-month-old wirehaired pointer ran wild on a pheasant shoot, and attacked a neighbour's chickens. "I hated that dog," Noem writes, before detailing how she led Cricket to a gravel pit on her family farm and shot it dead. "It was not a pleasant job, but it had to be done." For good measure, she then shot a family goat that was "nasty and mean".

Performative 'machismo'?

Noem likely thought that this account of gutsy gunplay would burnish her conservative credentials, said Robin Abcarian in the Los Angeles Times, and you can see why she might have got that impression.

In recent years, a series of ambitious Republican women have sought to "prove their machismo". It started with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the self-styled "mama grizzly", who endorsed the controversial practice of shooting wolves from helicopters to cull numbers.

Then there was Joni Ernst, who boasted in her senate campaign of her experience in castrating pigs. In a 2022 campaign ad, Marjorie Taylor Greene blew up a Toyota Prius with a .50-calibre sniper rifle to show how she would "blow away the Democrats' socialist agenda". By directing this "performative cruelty" at pets, however, Noem crossed a line.

Trump team 'bewildered'

Ultimately, US voters prefer dogs to politicians, said Peder Schaefer on Politico. Mistreating them is a no-no. Lyndon B. Johnson received serious flak after he held up one of his beagles by the ears, and the former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has never lived down the revelation during the 2012 campaign that he used to transport his dog in a crate on the roof of the car on holidays.

Noem may well have doomed her political career. Trump campaign insiders are "bewildered" by the story and claim that Noem has no chance of being his vice-presidential candidate now, said Diana Glebova in the New York Post.

Trump "isn't a dog person", said a source, but he "understands that you can't choose a puppy killer" as a running mate.