Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at Touro Law School in Central...

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at Touro Law School in Central Islip on Aug. 8, 2018. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday sought to deride President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, saying the nation “was never that great.”

Cuomo, who is facing a Democratic primary in less than a month, increasingly has made Trump a campaign issue. At a Manhattan event to sign a law to reduce sex trafficking, Cuomo highlighted what he saw as Trump’s derisive treatment of women.

“We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great. We have not reached greatness,” Cuomo said at the close of his speech. “We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged. We will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping against women … is gone.”

Republicans pounced on Cuomo’s remarks. The GOP state committee said Cuomo’s “statement that America was never that great is a shocking insult to the people of our country.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said Cuomo “should be ashamed of himself.”

“America, with its imperfections, has always been great,” Molinaro said in statement issued shortly after Cuomo’s news conference. “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. Mr. Cuomo owes the nation an apology.”

Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted: " “WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT.”  Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!"

About 30 minutes later, Cuomo responded in a tweet: "@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)"

After a Twitter backlash earlier in the day, Cuomo press secretary Dani Lever issued a statement backtracking slightly and attempting to underscore Cuomo’s point.

“The governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman and child has full equality,” Lever said. “When the president speaks about making America great again — going back in time — he ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions.”

Earlier in his remarks, Cuomo said Trump’s ubiquitous slogan was about returning to a time of greater racism and sexism and fewer protections for gay people, immigrants and the environment.

“He has it on his hat: ‘Make America great again.’ What does that mean?” Cuomo, considered by some a 2020 presidential contender, said. “The whole concept is retrospective. What do you want to go back to, Mr. President?”

Notably, Cuomo’s ridiculing of Trump came just two days after the president mocked the governor during a campaign stop in Utica. Besides disparaging Cuomo’s record, Trump claimed the New York governor “called me and said I’ll never run for president against you.” Cuomo disputed the story, saying he never has “personal, political conversations” with Trump.

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