Kristi Noem gets a MAGA makeover

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is gearing up for her national close-up. How else to interpret his recent controversial trip to Texas to “fix” his smile, documented in a long video?

You know, the one she posted on that she was cycling with her children. One that chronicled her journey toward, she said, “a smile I can be proud of and trust.”

The result looked so much like a promotional infomercial that Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group, says pursue Ms. Noem for misleading advertising, claiming she was indeed acting as a travel influencer. Vanity Fair wrote that the whole exercise “blew up in his face.”

Except for one thing. The history of teeth goes far beyond teeth.

As the race to become 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.

“It’s all about his appeal to one audience,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist. “The whole teeth thing almost seems like it was done so Trump could see it. She shows him that she works well in front of the camera, that she has the star power he wants on stage with him, while fitting into the fashion for women in the Trump universe.

Mr. Trump was, after all, the president who often identified members of his staff, particularly military personnel, as coming of “central casting.” He now dresses almost entirely in the colors of the American flag. He would have liked women “dress like women” — and, as Richard Thompson Ford, a law professor at Stanford University and author of “Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History,” said, “We know what that means to him.” is reflected in the profiles of almost every woman in Trump's orbit, including members of his family and his former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

In this way, Ms. Noem's dental improvement is simply the most recent step in what appears to be a years-long makeover that has transformed her, more than any other woman on Mr. Trump's shortlist, into what Samantha N. Sheppard, professor of film and media studies at Cornell University, called “the perfect ornament for Trump.” Even beyond her popularity and credentials as governor, and her MAGA platform, she offers an example of a certain type of “Miss America-style white womanhood,” Ms. Sheppard said, which also reflects in Fox News anchors and involves cascading hair, extended eyelashes and a blinding smile.

How does Mr. Trump know she's on his team? All he has to do is watch.

The story is told in imagery. In 2010, when she first ran for Congress, Ms. Noem had a haircut that looked like a cross between “the Rachel,” the layered, slicked-back haircut that Jennifer Aniston made famous in “Friends” and Hillary’s favorite power bob. Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. When she was re-elected in 2012, she cut it into a short look that Ms. Sheppard compared to Kate Gosselin's iconic haircut in “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” although slightly more corporatized.

After Mr. Trump won the presidency and the MAGA movement took off, Ms. Noem adopted a new look. Her hair was getting longer and longer, with tousled waves kissed by the curling iron, her part moving towards the center. She started to look like a dead ringer for Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.'s fiancée. Or a brunette version of Lara Trump, Eric Trump's wife and the new co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Even Ms. Noem's clothes have changed, from the khaki shirtdress she wore to CPAC in 2011 to the bright blue sheath she chose for her State of the State speech this year.

There is no better example of his transformation than the cover photo of his new book“No Turning Back: The Truth About What's Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward,” which features a portrait of Ms. Noem with glossy lips, thick eyelashes and a hand apparently playing with her wavy locks as she sits at her desk. chair in blazer and dress in front of the American flag.

“She practically looks like a member of the Trump family,” Mr. Bonjean said. “Maybe a cousin.”

And while her Trumpification might be a coincidence, Ms. Noem has proven sensitive to the effects and uses of costumes, as shown recent announcements in which she disguised herself as a dental hygienist, an electrician, and a highway patrolman, to better convey the idea that “South Dakota is hiring.” (“We have more than 20,000 unfilled jobs,” she says in an ad. And no personal income tax!)

“It’s absolutely strategic,” Mr. Ford said. Ms. Noem “signals that she’s going to be Trump’s kind of woman.” And at the same time, that she's not going to challenge him.

This approach to political image-making has its roots in the mimicked femininity of Phyllis Schlafly and Sarah Palin, where the promise of a powerful woman was disfigured by her participation in the pageantry of traditional gender cosplay.

The teeth simply complete the picture, as does the fact that Ms. Noem took the opportunity to speak to the dentist who performed the procedure. If anyone recognizes the value of using power to promote products, it is Mr. Trump himself. And perhaps, in doing so, recognize a kindred spirit.

The governor may partly present himself as a grassroots cowgirl, but Ms. Noem speaks Mr. Trump's language, proving that she belongs and is completely on board with his vision. That she will “get in line and stay in line,” Ms. Sheppard said. “That she knows how to behave and be who he needs her to be.”

In any case, he clearly noticed it. Days after the news broke, Ms. Noem joined Mr. Trump at a rally for Senate candidate Bernie Moreno in Vandalia, Ohio. After speaking – they wore matching MAGA hats – Mr. Trump announcement: “You don’t have the right to say it, so I won’t.” You're not allowed to say she's beautiful, so I'm not going to say it.

What could she do but smile?

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