WASHINGTON (JTA) — Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro challenged Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the tyro socialist Democrat from the Bronx, to a debate on Wednesday.
Things quickly devolved into off-topic discussions of sexual harassment and Orthodox Judaism, with Monica Lewinsky making a cameo appearance.
Shapiro offered $10,000 to a charity of Ocasio-Cortez’s choice or to her campaign if she took him up on his offer. He said the congressional candidate had accused Republicans of being afraid to debate, and here he was ready to debate.
Shapiro’s challenge spurred a lot of “fight, fight, fight” from conservative Twitter, compiled here on the conservative website Twitchy.
(I could not, in a quick internet dive, come up with instances of Ocasio-Cortez decrying Republican cowardice. I did find an account of her debate strategy in The New Yorker in an article about her successful primary unseating of veteran Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley. She kept showing up for debates. He bailed twice, and the one time he showed up, she whomped him, at least according to the admiring David Remnick.)
If there were a debate, you could probably count on Shapiro, a prominent Israel defender, to challenge Ocasio-Cortez on her harsh criticism of Israel. She described the day in May when Israeli troops killed more than 60 Palestinians, mostly Hamasniks, some of whom were attempting to breach the fence with the Gaza Strip as a “massacre.”
Ocasio-Cortez did not have to reply: No one expects a candidate to debate non-candidates, and her from-the-left appeal is based much more on getting out the vote than it is on persuading undecided independents or hostile conservatives.
But reply she did on Thursday, and in the process advanced a jarring simile: Shapiro’s very polite debate challenge, she said, was akin to catcalling.
“Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions,” she tweeted.
That prompted a new round of conservative outrage, accusing Ocasio-Cortez of playing the gender card.
“Crying sexism in order to avoid a debate of ideas is not a feminism I want any part of,” said Erielle Davidson, a contributor to The Federalist and TownHall.
John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, seized on Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that Shapiro’s challenge was based on “bad intentions.”
And then it was Shapiro’s turn to get weird: He advanced his Orthodox Judaism as a defense against intimations that he was harassing her, when “challenging you to a debate is not harassment” would have worked just fine.
A Shapiro defender, fellow conservative pundit Daniella Greenbaum, said Shapiro is “a happily married man,” implying presumably that no happily married man (like no Orthodox man) has ever made a rude sexual remark to a woman.
Carol Costello, an anchor on CNN’s Headline News Network, had enough. Quoting Shapiro’s “but I’m Orthodox” tweet thread, she admonished, “Sigh. Seriously Ben this is a silly stunt.” (Costello hosted Shapiro for a friendly and sympathetic interview when leftist protesters tried to drive him away from a lecture last year at the University of California, Berkeley.)
Lewinsky, who knows from trouble and male attention, weighed in by calling Ocasio-Cortez a “badass.”