Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) to apologize after declaring America "was never that great."
Molinaro, who hopes to unseat Cuomo this November to become New York's first Republican chief executive since 2006, issued a scathing rebuke of the incumbent on Wednesday, only hours after the governor's attempt to take a swipe at President Donald Trump stupendously backfired.
The Republican asserted Cuomo was striving to nationalize the gubernatorial race this year in order to distract New Yorkers from the "failed policies" and corruption scandals that have hobbled his administration in recent years.
"America, with its imperfections, has always been great. Our people, our principles, and our promises have been a beacon of light to the world for 242 years and counting," Molinaro said. "This governor is so determined to distract voters from his failed policies and corrupted administration that he's willing to dismiss the steady, determined march of the American people, making and remaking the greatness of America."
Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, has sought to make ethics, character, and integrity the defining issues of his challenge to Cuomo.
In condemning the governor's disparaging remarks, Molinaro added Cuomo "should be ashamed of himself" and owed the "nation an apology."
Cuomo, a potential 2020 White House aspirant, made the controversial comments while addressing an audience, consisting mostly of women and girls, following the signage of legislation making human trafficking a felony offense in New York. The governor, whose bill signing was choreographed as a reproach of Washington, D.C.'s "attacks [on] women's rights," attempted to take a jab at President Trump and his "Make America Great Again" slogan in his closing statement.
"We are not going to 'make America great again,'" Cuomo said. "It was never that great."
After audible gasps and awkward laughter from the audience, the governor tried to elaborate by stating America would not "reach greatness" until the "stereotyping of women ... is gone."
"We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged," Cuomo said. "We will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping of women, 51% of our population, is gone, and every woman's full potential is realized and unleashed and every woman is making her full contribution."
The seriousness of Cuomo's gaffe was immediately evident as both Republicans and Democrats emerged to admonish the governor. And while the Cuomo's office later released a statement to clarify his earlier remarks, saying he "believes America is great," it was not enough to to dispel backlash.
Cuomo's Democratic primary foe, former "Sex and the City" actress and liberal activist Cynthia Nixon, suggested his remark was a poor attempt to appeal to the progressive left–those who may be more apt to support Nixon in the election.
"I think this is just another example of Andrew Cuomo trying to figure out what a progressive sounds like and missing by a mile," Nixon said.
Nixon is mounting an underdog insurgency campaign to deny Cuomo the Democratic Party's nomination for a third term, arguing the governor is insufficiently committed to the progressive agenda. Although Nixon has trailed Cuomo in polling, many astute political observers believe her presence in the race has driven the governor to stake out increasingly left-leaning positions on voting rights, marijuana legalization, and environmental issues.
Late Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump also weighed in on the governor's gaffe by asserting Cuomo was "having a total meltdown."