Potential rival or running mate? Kristi Noem, the governor who denied Trump a face on Mount Rushmore

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Donald Trump’s rough summer continues. Hammered by the Jan. 6 commission, his influence ebbing and possible prosecution looming, the former US president must now face the death of a long-cherished dream.

No, Trump’s face won’t be carved into Mount Rushmore.

Kristi Noem, the Republican governor of South Dakota, home of the sacred national monument, has ruled out any addition to the 18-foot-tall faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

name told the story first Trump’s wish to be immortalized on Mount Rushmore in 2018. Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, she recounted her first meeting with Trump in the Oval Office while serving as a member of Congress.

Related: Trump Photo with Rittenhouse Unveils ‘Mount Trumpmore’ Sculpture

“I said, ‘Mr. President, I’m Kristi Noem, I’m from South Dakota. South Dakota is home to Mount Rushmore. You should come visit it sometime.’ And he said, “Oh, did you know my dream is to have my face on Mount Rushmore?” And I was surprised about that. We laughed and laughed about it.”

But when the Guardian asked on Thursday whether Trump’s dream of being carved into the monument could be realized even after his involvement in the January 6 uprising, Noem replied: I don’t think we’ll be adding faces to Mount Rushmore anytime soon. It’s pretty special the way it is.

“I don’t think anyone ever claimed that any of our leaders were perfect. Each of us has flaws, but we still have leaders who have led us through challenging times. Remember that history is incredibly important.”

Noem is widely seen as a potential rival — or running mate — to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. This week, she published a memoir, Not my first rodeo: lessons from the heartlandand delivered speeches to the Heritage Foundation think tank and the National Conservative Student Conference in Washington.

At the latest event, she was joined by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, apparently working for her again after a brief hiatus, and she held an informal talk with reporters where questions included the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion.

Then-President Donald Trump with Kristi Noem at a 2018 White House rally

Then-President Donald Trump with Kristi Noem at a meeting at the White House in 2018. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

A trigger law went into effect banning abortion in South Dakota except to save the life of a pregnant woman. Some conservatives in the state legislature wanted to go further, but Noem has proved hesitant, fueling speculation that she soften her position along the edges to broaden its national appeal.

On Thursday, she said she had no objection to women leaving the state to have an abortion elsewhere. “I don’t know of any legislators who are serious about that, and I certainly don’t. And to be clear, even in South Dakota, if they had an abortion, even though the law wouldn’t allow it, a woman would never be prosecuted. It would be the doctor who made it possible and deliberately broke the law, not the women.”

Related: Most Americans don’t want Biden or Trump in 2024, polls show

But Noem offered little comfort to those who fear the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority could pursue same-sex marriage rights. “I have never supported same-sex marriage to the extent that it is legal in our state. For me, a lot of my faith has to do with that and its legal documentation. But I do know that a lot of people are still having those discussions.”

Noem, the first woman to hold the South Dakota governor’s office and be re-elected this year, resisted significant lockdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic, accusing other governors of “exceeding their authority.” In her address to the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, she also criticized Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert.

“He, from anyone in this country, should never again be allowed one minute of airtime for the devastation he has wrought on so many families,” she said. “He has wiped out their livelihood, he has destroyed the education of children – we have children who will struggle forever because they have been forced to wear masks that have damaged their development. It is a tragedy what that man allowed the United States of America to affect.”

Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, has repeatedly hit back in kind at his right-wing critics.

Last year he told the New York Times: “’Fauci has blood on his hands’ – are you kidding me? Here’s a man whose whole life is devoted to saving lives, and now you’re telling me he’s just like Hitler? You know, come on, people. Get real.”

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