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Editorial: Cuomo steps in it with Trump comment

Bet he wishes he could take that one back.

In a speech challenging President Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, attempting to make a point about the country’s continuing reach for greatness, stepped in it.

“We are not going to make America great again,” he said. “It was never that great.”

It was the kind of faux pas that makes campaign workers cringe and sends opponents gleefully rushing to their Twitter accounts. Trump pounced on it. So did the Republican candidate for governor, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who called on Cuomo to apologize to the nation. “America, with its imperfections, has always been great,” he said.

It’s clear from the totality of Cuomo’s remarks that he was attempting to make a different point. Speaking as he signed a bill dealing with penalties for sex trafficking, the governor was in attack mode, criticizing Trump. But immediately after putting his foot in his mouth, the governor continued:

“We have not reached greatness,” he said. “We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged. We will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping of women, 51 percent of our population, is gone, and every woman’s full potential is realized and unleashed and every woman is making her full contribution.” He continued in that vein.

Does it matter? Sure, in terms of a reasonable evaluation of his speech. True greatness still awaits. It’s a common enough position, though clearly debatable. But in terms of political craft – of leading, challenging, making a key point and with due care and consideration – not so much.

Politicians can pay a high price for misspeaking. Former President Gerald Ford, attempting to make a point in a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, said that Poland wasn’t dominated by the Soviet Union. He lost the election. That had more to do with the turbulent aftermath of Watergate than Ford’s head-slapper, but it didn’t help.

With 2½ months until this year’s general election, you can be sure that Molinaro will make maximum hay out the comment. It will be replayed ad infinitum should Cuomo make the White House run that many observers expect.

Will it be a career killer? It seems unlikely. The people who make the biggest issue of it will probably be those who would never have voted for him, anyway. Others, looking at the totality of his remarks, and keeping them in context, will shake their heads and then shrug it off.

But it wasn’t the mark of a pro. And it won’t help.

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