President Donald Trump was attempting to knock down U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand when he went after her on Twitter like other foes. But it just might have the opposite effect.
So far, and it’s just days into this, Trump’s criticism has elevated the profile of the New York senator, accorded her an array of television opportunities and lifted her name among those mentioned as Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential election.
Gillibrand, who is up for re-election in New York in 2018, long has been vocal about sexual harassment and assault, especially advocating changes for how the military handles such cases. She irked many in her own party when she said in November that in hindsight former President Bill Clinton should have resigned over sexual harassment allegations.
Then, she took aim at Trump on Monday when she told CNN the president, who has been accused of harassment by more than a dozen women, should resign and, failing that, Congress should investigate the women’s claims.
Gillibrand wasn’t the first to say that. But apparently, unlike others, she struck a nerve.
Trump fired off a tweet that called her a “lightweight,” said that she “begged” him for campaign contributions and would “do anything” for them. Many saw that as sexually suggestive.
“Certainly that’s how I and many people read it,” Gillibrand said on NBC’s “Today Show.” “It was a sexist smear, intended to silence me.”
Trump’s tweet came a day after three of his accusers held a news conference in New York asking Congress to investigate the claims of more than a dozen women who say he harassed or abused them. Some reports, citing Trump sources, have said the strategy of Trump’s strike at Gillibrand was to divert attention from the accusers. But it also put the New York senator in the spotlight.
“This is a disgusting tweet. Also, it will make the Gillibrand folks ecstatic,” former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter.
“It puts her at the center of those leading the charge” on the issue of sexual harassment, said Robert Spitzer, a political scientist at the State University of New York at Cortland. And on Thursday, Gillibrand announced a bipartisan bill to change the way Congress deals with such complaints against members.
“It’s not as though he attacked a random senator about a random comment against him. He attacked the leading spokesperson in the Senate [opposing] sexual assault and harassment,” said Tim Byrnes, a Colgate University political science professor.