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GOP's Puppy Lovers Want to Send Kristi Noem to the Doghouse – The Daily Beast

Some GOP lawmakers cultivate gruff, gun-toting, frontiersman brands. But no one is immune to loving puppies.
Politics Reporter
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy. He once threatened to fight an online stranger who challenged his rejection of the 2020 election results. He’s a firearms enthusiast who has publicly suggested that Black Lives Matter protesters should be met with force by police. More recently, Higgins personally manhandled a progressive activist at a press conference.
But even Higgins knows: You don’t brag about shooting a puppy.
Yet that’s exactly what South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem did. In her new memoir, Noem recounted how she once brought a 14-month old wirehaired pointer named Cricket that she “hated” to a gravel pit on her family farm and shot her dead.
“I just can’t get my head wrapped around being angry at a dog, and bringing them into the woods, and shooting them,” Higgins told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “So if that’s what happened, that’s gonna be a problem.”
Once considered a rising star and a possible vice presidential contender for Donald Trump, Noem is now hemorrhaging support in the former president’s orbit, and her chances for the No. 2 slot have tanked.
On Capitol Hill, many Republicans know Noem. She served in the House from 2011 to 2019. It might be expected that the South Dakotan’s canine scandal would be met with a more muted reception in a House GOP where lurid scandals, personal beefs, and bizarre public conduct are now the norm.
Not exactly.
“I think it’s terrible and a form of animal cruelty,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) told The Daily Beast. “I don’t appreciate it, and I think it does hurt her chances of being vice president—though I’m not sure that she was one of the top contenders.”
Malliotakis’ disapproval is to be expected; the Staten Island representative is a Republican leader on animal protection and a well-known dog lover who last year floated her chihuahua, Luna, to be Speaker of the House. She has a 100 percent rating as well as an endorsement from the Humane Society.
But even GOP lawmakers without cred in the animal rights community are seriously put off by Noem’s story. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) has an 18 percent lifetime score from the Humane Society, but said of Noem’s puppy slaughter, “I don’t know if it’s something I’d be bragging about.”
Some in GOP circles are speculating that Noem shared the anecdote to boost her tough, gunslinging image. If that was the goal, Burchett—who has two King Charles Cavaliers and a mutt—thinks Noem misfired.
“I’ve got three dogs. I’m not shooting any of them,” Burchett added, “even though they eat my wife’s shoes.”
Some of Noem’s Capitol Hill allies are defending her, insisting she still has a political future. With varying degrees of fervor, several defended Noem's character and the harsh realities of rural farm life but refrained from personally endorsing canine killings.
Hard-right Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), for example, speculated that despite the wall-to-wall media coverage, the average voter isn’t keeping tabs on Noem’s reputation as a pet owner.
“If you ask Main Street U.S.A., they’re gonna say, ‘Kristi Noem killing a dog?’ No. It’s not an issue,’” Norman told The Daily Beast.
Another Republican, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), said he isn’t giving the situation a “second thought.” Zinke served with Noem when he was first in the House.
“I like Kristi,” Zinke told The Daily Beast. “No doubt she did the right thing.”
But perhaps Noem’s best defense so far came from her fellow South Dakotan, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), who told CNN that “life is a little different in rural America.”
“I know most people would go over to the vet,” Johnson said. “But I would tell you that Kristi Noem was not the first or the one thousandth, you know, farmer or rancher that’s put down an animal themselves.”
But by and large, Republicans are wary of associating themselves with a dog slaying. The rest of the South Dakota delegation hardly backed their governor up. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a potential future leader of the Senate GOP, told reporters he doesn’t “really have any observations on it.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) struck a more critical tone.
While Rounds told Politico that putting a dog down is a “private and personal matter,” he added that “in most cases where a dog does not perform well in the field, it probably has more to do with the training they received than with the dog itself.”
A spokesperson for Noem did not respond to a request for comment.
Noem is hardly the only politician with puppy-shaped skeletons in her closet. Experiments conducted by Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz reportedly killed 329 dogs.
A 2007 Boston Globe story mentioning Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) strapping his dog Seamus to the roof of his car in a dog carrier sparked a “Dogs Against Romney” Facebook group when the former Massachusetts governor ran for president in 2012. Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-MI) once owned a company accused of mistreating 170 dogs and monkeys used for lab testing.
Asked in the Capitol Hill halls about the Noem controversy, Thanedar did not weigh in, instead handing The Daily Beast his official business card.
The story of Noem shooting her dog is unique for its obvious brutality, but also because it came directly from the source. The governor’s decision to volunteer the morbid tale in her own autobiography spurs serious questions about her possible motivations and political acumen.
Democrats are seizing on the story as a bizarre anecdote from a Trump disciple that sparks yet another jarring news cycle for MAGA Republicans and displays questionable judgment.
“Killing a puppy, I mean, there’s something wrong with her,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) told The Daily Beast. “That she thinks it’s to her political advantage to brag about that is something I just don’t understand.”
But Republicans clearly aren’t afraid of dogpiling. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who hosts an annual pup parade in the Capitol, told HuffPost, “She’s obviously not an experienced dog trainer, because I’ve seen ill-behaved dogs are usually a reflection of their owner.”
“I don’t see it as a net win for anybody but the dog killers caucus,” Tillis said.
Moderate Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)—a prominent Republican in the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus—didn’t say much about the Noem controversy, but put his assessment bluntly, telling The Daily Beast that “the reports aren’t good, I’ll say that.”
“Obviously those reports are troubling,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that killing a puppy is “not something I would do.”
Higgins, the Louisiana Republican, explained that there are plenty of scandals that politicians can come back from. He posed the hypothetical “recovered” drug dealer running for public office.
“We go, ‘Yay. You’re wonderful. We’ll vote for you,’” he said. “You could have been a horrible person and done criminal stuff.”
“But my point is that as a society,” Higgins added, “we don’t have that level of forgiveness for people who are cruel to animals.”
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