It was an offer she could, in fact, refuse.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist from New York who scored a shocking primary victory over Representative Joseph Crowley in June, has since become a lightning rod for attacks from conservative circles.
The conservative scrutiny on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took a strange turn this week when a popular conservative commentator and speaker, Ben Shapiro, challenged Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to a debate and offered to pay her campaign $10,000 in return.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who trounced Mr. Crowley, a longtime and powerful member of Congress from Queens, likened the offer to catcalling — the practice of whistling or making unwanted comments to women who pass by on the street.
In a Twitter post on Thursday night, she roundly rejected his proposal. “I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions,” she said. “And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one.”
Social media soon erupted, with progressives rallying around her assessment that the proffer of money was misogynistic, and conservatives mocking Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s response as political correctness on steroids.
Mr. Shapiro, a 34-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School, was an editor at large at Breitbart News before founding the Daily Wire, a conservative news and opinion website. He also makes dozens of appearances on college campuses a year, challenging students on everything from transgenderism to Obamacare to affirmative action.
Called a polemicist by fans and a pugilist by detractors, Mr. Shapiro fired back at Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s dismissal of his debate proposition in a series of Twitter posts. “Discussion and debate are not ‘bad intentions,’” he wrote. “Slandering someone as a sexist catcaller without reason or evidence does demonstrate cowardice and bad intent, however.”
In a phone interview on Friday, Mr. Shapiro rejected that there was anything sexist about his offer, saying that he could see himself making a similar offer to an older, male ideological opponent.
“I would offer Bernie Sanders $50,000 to debate, absolutely,” he said, referring to the Vermont senator. “What in the world does this have to do with her being a woman?”
He also criticized Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s analogy of catcalling, labeling it an “insane” accusation.
“I’m an Orthodox Jew and I have never catcalled a woman in my life,” he said. “I don’t know how they catcall down in Queens, but it must be weird.”
Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, declined to respond to Mr. Shapiro. “She said her piece and put it out there, and that’s all we have to say,” he said from Hawaii, where Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is campaigning for a fellow democratic socialist and congressional candidate, Kaniela Ing.
This was not the first time that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had engaged in a much-watched Twitter tussle since she defeated Mr. Crowley, who had been a contender for House speaker if Democrats managed to flip the chamber in November.
Last month, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez lashed out at Mr. Crowley for his decision to remain on the Working Families Party line in the general election, despite the party asking Mr. Crowley to vacate it. She said he was trying to undermine her candidacy by mounting a third-party challenge, after he seemed to have graciously conceded the election by dedicating the Bruce Springsteen anthem, “Born to Run,” to her at what was supposed to be his victory party.
But Mr. Crowley, in his own Twitter post, said that there was no easy way to remove himself from the ballot. “Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together,” he wrote. “I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running.”