As a new coronavirus wave accelerated by the Delta variant spreads across the United States, many Republican governors have taken sweeping action to combat what they see as an even more urgent danger posed by the pandemic: the threat to personal freedom.

In Florida, Ron DeSantis has prevented local governments and school districts from enacting mask mandates and battled in court over compliance. In Texas, Greg Abbott has followed a similar playbook, renewing an order last week to ban vaccine mandates.

And in South Dakota, Kristi Noem, who like Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott is a potential 2024 candidate for president, has made her blanket opposition to lockdowns and mandates a key selling point. Arriving by horseback and carrying the American flag, she advertised the state’s recent Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew half a million people, as a beacon of liberty.

Ms. Noem brushed aside criticism from Democrats and public health experts…

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