By Shane Goldmacher
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York mocked President Donald Trump’s ubiquitous “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan on Wednesday, quickly drawing the ire of Republicans for saying that America “was never that great.”
“We are not going to make America great, America. It was never that great,” Cuomo said. “We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.”
Cuomo made the comment at the end of a 20-minute speech that focused heavily on Trump. The event was ostensibly a bill-signing ceremony for new penalties for sex trafficking in New York.
The clip was quickly packaged by Republicans, and Marcus Molinaro, the Republican candidate for governor, said Cuomo owed the nation an apology. “America, with its imperfections, has always been great,” Molinaro said.
Earlier in his speech, Cuomo, who is facing a primary challenge from his Democratic rival, Cynthia Nixon, explained that he saw Trump’s slogan as backward looking.
“He has it on his hat: ‘Make America Great Again.’ What does that mean? We’re going to go back to a time when America was great. Right? ‘Great again.’ The whole concept is, it’s retrospective,” Cuomo said. “When do you want to go back to, Mr. President? What was the great time that you want to take us back to, when America was great?”
Cuomo went on to suggest that Trump wanted to return to a time before same-sex marriage rights and the women’s equality and environmental protection movements and “before these new immigrants started to come across the border.”
“That’s when America was great, in his head,” Cuomo told the crowd in Manhattan.
A few hours later, after the backlash, the governor’s press secretary, Dani Lever, issued a statement. “The governor believes America is great,” Lever clarified, adding that “maximum greatness” was still to be achieved.
The governor’s dislike of “retrospective” slogans is relatively new. When he ran for governor in 2010, Cuomo said in his announcement video, “Together, we can make New York great again.”
Late Wednesday, Trump and Cuomo intensified the debate. Trump began by tweeting: "Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!" To which Cuomo replied: "What you say would be 'great again' would not be great at all...We will not go back to discrimination, segregation, sexism, isolationism, racism or the KKK. Like NY's motto says: Excelsior -- Ever Upward (not backward)."
.@RealDonaldTrump: What you say would be 'great again' would not be great at all...We will not go back to discrimination, segregation, sexism, isolationism, racism or the KKK.
Like NY's motto says: Excelsior -- Ever Upward (not backward) https://t.co/nrcUrsYJCO
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) August 16, 2018