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South Dakota delegation won’t attend Trump rally citing ‘scheduling conflicts’

RAPID CITY, S.D. – When the South Dakota Republican Party hosts former President Donald Trump on Sept. 8 in Rapid City, the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation will not be there.

All three have scheduling conflicts, their offices said.

South Dakota’s senators have endorsed South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott in the Republican presidential primary, rather than former President Donald Trump.

Sen. John Thune told South Dakota Searchlight recently that Trump’s campaign is too focused on the past.

“If all you can talk about is the last election, you’re not going to win the next election,” Thune said. “People want to hear how you want to lead this country going forward, not backward.”

Sen. Mike Rounds said Scott is a good alternative to Trump.

“I just want people in South Dakota to give him a look,” Rounds said. He described Scott as a candidate with policies similar to Trump’s but without the legal complications. Trump is currently a defendant in four criminal cases.

Rep. Dusty Johnson has not endorsed a presidential candidate and said he plans to “suspend judgment” of Trump’s criminal cases until the courts reach a conclusion.

“Maybe I’m old school, but I feel like you actually want to get to the bottom of things before you come to judgment,” Johnson said. He said endorsing candidates “is not something that I do.”

Johnson faces reelection next year, while Rounds’ current term runs through 2026 and Thune’s runs through 2028.

The Trump event, a fundraiser for the state party, will be at The Monument event center in Rapid City with Gov. Kristi Noem billed as Trump’s “special guest.” General admission tickets were advertised at $25 apiece, and the state party has said the 6,000 available seats are sold out. The party is also offering VIP packages, including a chance to meet with Trump and Noem, for up to $25,000. State Rep. and GOP Chairman John Wiik, of Big Stone City, directed South Dakota Searchlight’s inquiries about the event to a party employee who did not immediately respond.

The event does not have universal support within the party. State Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, of Watertown, said he thinks “Biden belongs in assisted living” but “the MAGA crowd is not my cup of tea.” “MAGA” is an acronym for Trump’s slogan, “Make America great again.”

Schoenbeck said he’s most interested in the Republican presidential candidacies of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In particular, Schoenbeck said he respects Christie’s willingness to criticize Trump.

Polls averaged by Real Clear Politics show Trump favored among Republican primary voters at 55.9%, with other candidates far behind, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Scott at 14.6% and 3%, respectively.

Schoenbeck said the polling should tell Republican voters that Trump would do poorly in the general election.

“Trump can hardly hold down half of his own party,” Schoenbeck said.

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