The Trumpification of Kristi Noem

Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, is readying for her national close-up. How else to interpret her recent controversial trip to Texas to “fix” her smile, documented in a lengthy video?

You know, the one she posted on X, Facebook and Instagram, singing the praises of Smile Texas, the cosmetic dental clinic that remedied what she said had been a problem incurred long ago in an accident while bicycling with her children. The one that chronicled her journey to, she said, “a smile that I can be proud of and confident in.”

The result seemed so much like a promotional infomercial that Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group, is suing Ms. Noem for misleading advertising, claiming she was effectively acting as a travel influencer. Vanity Fair wrote that the whole exercise was “blowing up in her face.”

Except for one thing. The teeth story is about a lot more than teeth.

As the race to be Donald J. Trump’s running mate heats up, Ms. Noem’s new smile reflects a tactical move that has as much to do with politics and psychology as it does with appearance.

Ms. Noem, in a previous incarnation, addressing a CPAC meeting in 2011.Credit…Larry Downing/Reuters
Ms. Noem at CPAC in February of this year.Credit…Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

“It’s all about her appeal to an audience of one,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, said. “The whole teeth thing almost looks like it was done for Trump to see. She is showing him she works well in front of the camera, that she has that star power he wants onstage with him, while fitting into the mode of women in the Trump universe.”

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