Donald Trump changed a lot of things about the Republican Party, but one of the biggest favors he did social conservatives was refusing to be intimidated by the issues. He took on the abortion lobby, the gender wars, LGBT extremism, the cancel culture -- and never once apologized. Say what you will about his tone or methods, but Trump didn't shy away from the hard questions. After four years of that, most conservatives have lost the appetite for compromise. That's bad news for Republicans who don't have the stomach for those fights -- because there's one thing our movement isn't willing to settle for anymore, and that's cowardice.
Until this week, a lot of people believed Governor Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) was built in Trump's same mold: fearless in the face of controversy. So imagine everyone's disappointment when the woman who promised to sign an enormously popular bill buckled at the first sign of opposition. Maybe, as some have said, Governor Noem fell prey to bad advice. Or maybe she believed that all of the goodwill she'd built up during South Dakota's COVID revolt would protect her. Whatever her reasons, the damage to her credibility by not defending girls' sports has been done. And no amount of media tours or Title IX pep rallies will fix it.
There are some who want to give Noem the benefit of the doubt. Surely, she's just sending back the bill to the legislature to "improve" it, they argue. But that's not true either, attorneys say. The only thing her "style and form" changes do is take one of the weaker proposals on this issue and gut it completely. "The fact is," Alliance Defending Freedom's Kristen Waggoner explained, "Governor Noem has taken the legal teeth out of this bill." She stripped all of the protections for collegiate athletes -- and her excuse, that "her hands are tied by the NCAA's policy," is completely false. "There's no NCAA policy that requires schools to allow males to compete on women's teams as Governor Noem suggests. [She] also vetoed the part of the bill that gives girls any legal recourse against unfair policies that arise. What's left is mere lip service for women and girls forced to compete against biological males."
Why would she agree to such a thing? The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway thinks the answer lies in Noem's inner circle. Turns out, the governor's chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, is on the board of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce -- one of the groups that lobbied Noem hard to reject the bill. Her other "top advisor" is "controversial behind-the-scenes power broker" Matt McCaulley, whose conflict of interest has not gone unnoticed by Republican lawmakers. His clients, Mollie points out, include Sanford Health, owner of Sanford Sports Complex -- one of the facilities hoping to "lure" NCAA tournaments to the state.
The NCAA, Americans found out Monday night, loomed large in Noem's decision-making. During her face-saving media tour, the governor struggled to answer the hard questions, essentially admitting to Fox News's Tucker Carlson that she's terrified of the Left. She's scared of making the NCAA mad if she signs the bill, scared of fighting for the law in court -- scared of everything except the one thing that should actually frighten her: losing her state's respect.
"I would very likely lose those litigation efforts," she tried to explain before Tucker interrupted her. "Wait," he said. "So you are saying the NCAA threatened you?... And you don't think you can win in court -- even though the public overwhelmingly supports you nationally? And so you are caving to the NCAA?" he fired back. She responded by saying that the league would have stopped women from being able to participate in collegiate sports -- a complete falsehood, legal experts pointed out afterward, since the NCAA has no such power.
Either way, the fact that anyone would refuse to sign a bill because it might be challenged in court is absurd. States are sued all the time over legislation. That doesn't mean leaders stop making public policy. It means they do the right thing and trust the rest to the process. That is, after all, one of the reasons Republicans have spent the last 20 years balancing out the courts. If governors like Noem are too scared of the country's judicial system to do their jobs, then what have these last four years accomplished? Her whole logic "undermines the GOP's national playbook of confirming [good, originalist] judges," the Daily Caller's Logan Hall fumed.
Regardless, it's not Noem's job to speculate what the courts or the NCAA will do. Her job is to act in the best interest of South Dakotans. "The women's sports fight is not just about women's sports. It's about drawing a line in the sand and taking a firm stand for sanity and the truth," Matt Walsh argued. "Kristi Noem says she doesn't want to ban males from women's sports at the college level, because the NCAA might 'punish' [them]." But voters didn't elect the NCAA to govern their state. Or Amazon. Or the Chamber of Commerce, for that matter. They elected her. If they'd wanted someone who would sign over South Dakota's government to the corporate interests, they would have picked a liberal and saved themselves the trouble.
Now that she's sold out voters to Big Business, Noem says she'll fight by starting a coalition. She wants to persuade people that signing a petition is more effective than signing a law. It isn't. The only way to make a difference for America's girls is through public policy -- not public surrender. "This is the last hill to die on. [It's] the last latch on Pandora's Box," the Blaze's Steve Deace insists. "If we will not fight to conserve the most fundamental fact of human existence, then our way of life is truly over and this 'movement' is just as much to blame as the spirit of the age pushing this rotgut."
Standing up to the bullies takes guts. The South Dakota legislature has them. It's a shame the one person they needed to see this effort through doesn't.