Image Credit: Getty Images

(Upper) Plain Evil: Are The Republicans In These States Okay??

Famous for their wide open spaces and small populations, it’s not often that the states of the Upper Plains get a lot of attention, so it’s telling that the most recent national stories out of the region have to do with politicians there being bizarre and disturbing.

First, obviously, there’s South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, who has made headlines around the country for doubling down on an anecdote about shooting a family puppy in her forthcoming political memoir. Mentioning such an atrocious decision in what is supposed to be a fluff-filled promotional book is already a red flag, but it’s more alarming that she apparently meant to equate putting a shotgun to the head of a 14-month-old dog to her willingness to “make hard choices” in politics. As a rational voter, I would like to say: No, thank you.

Which is also my response to the news that Tim Sheehy, running against Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana in one of the most contentious campaigns on the map, hired a Nazi as a field organizer. And when I say “Nazi,” I am not exaggerating for effect or political purposes; I mean, this guy praised an Italian fascist who wrote a foreword to the Italian translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, famously one of the most antisemitic works ever created. The staffer also frequently espouses views that some Americans are more criminal, less intelligent, and less worthy of equal rights due to the color of their skin, and is leader of the Montana chapter of a group that supports white supremacist and open Nazi, Nick Fuentes.

Both of these actions — cheerfully advocating dog murder as a political brand and hiring avowed and open white supremacists to promote a campaign — are troubling enough on their own, but the responses demonstrate the extremism of Republican politics even far from the orbit of Trump. Both of these states are relatively isolated from the issues of national politics: They have small populations spread out across far distances, a few minor cities, not much to export, and no border to speak of except the one with Canada (and South Dakota doesn’t even have that). Local appeal and regional knowledge could easily carry the day with a handful of nods to the grievance politics of the GOP nominee and the national party. Yet Noem and Sheehy have both chosen to expand and defend appeals based on cruelty, division, and violence.

Noem may have blown her shot to be on the VP shortlist and Sheehy has left himself open to attacks over sharing the views of his white supremacist staffer, but it’s not a good sign that Republican extremism is boiling hotter the farther away from DC we go. When met with criticism, both Noem and Sheehy have doubled down on their decisions — insisting that everyone else is either misinterpreting or maliciously attacking their approach — rather than acknowledging that shooting dogs and hiring Nazis is just not good politics. Killing a wayward puppy is not anything like “making a hard choice” as a political leader, and it’s disturbing to have any elected official say otherwise. The problem with having a staffer who openly believes that people are born inferior and our policy should reinforce that belief is not when reporters or political opponents notice, but the fact that the candidate explicitly endorses their repugnant views by continuing to pay them money to promote the campaign. Neither of these stories or the actions that underlie them should be political positives, but the people involved clearly believe otherwise.

These stories are likely to run out of fuel soon and draw our attention back to bigger national narratives, but the stench of the bad decisions will remain. Sheehy in particular is vulnerable to more pressure on his candidacy, his process, and his promises as a candidate because of the importance and vulnerability of the Montana Senate seat. When we turn back to the politics of the Upper Plains, we should be prepared to be critical of what we see. It’s getting worse up there.

Kaitlin Byrd
Kaitlin Byrd
Knows too much, thinks even more. Has infinite space in her heart for tea and breakfast for dinner. Really from New York, so always ready to cut a bitch.