Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders told a crowd in Madison Friday that Republican President Donald Trump is a “pathological liar,” while framing the next presidential election as a chance to stem a rising global tide of authoritarianism and bigotry.
“What this election is about is whether we strengthen democracy or we move toward oligarchy,” Sanders, I-Vt., told a crowd of several hundred supporters.
The rally at James Madison Park was the first of eight stops Sanders will make this weekend in battleground states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Those states were decisive in tipping the Electoral College to Trump in 2016 after they backed Democrats in past presidential contests.
With the Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin still a year away, Sanders’ visit was his opening salvo in a bid to reproduce his Democratic primary win here in 2016. His campaign has cited that win as part of a case that he’s uniquely positioned to fare well against Trump in the pivotal Upper Midwest.
At Friday’s event, Sanders reveled in how his political movement has shaped the national debate since his 2016 bid, causing many Democrats to support his signature measures such as Medicare for All. He touted other liberal positions such as a federal job guarantee, stronger steps to fight climate change and racial and gender discrimination, and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
“We have made real progress in transforming the political debate in America,” Sanders said.
Sanders also offered a blistering critique of Trump, calling him “the most dangerous president in modern American history.” Sanders ticked off a list of Trump statements — vowing to provide “health insurance for everybody” or pledging to stand up to Wall Street or be a champion for working people — about which Sanders said Trump lied and has failed to deliver.
“Whether you are a progressive or a conservative or a moderate, you are not proud that today we have a president of the United States who is a pathological liar,” Sanders said.
Unlike 2016, in this race Sanders must navigate a crowded Democratic primary to advance to face Trump in a general election.
Still, a Marquette Law School Poll of the Democratic presidential primary released Wednesday found Sanders remains in a strong position in Wisconsin. The poll found 32% of Democrats or non-GOP-leaning independents named Sanders as their top choice in the primary, the most of any Democratic candidate. He was followed by former Vice President Joe Biden at 29% and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, at 17%.
Unseasonably cold April temperatures and blustery wind didn’t deter a crowd of hundreds of Sanders supporters from attending the outdoor rally. One of them was Ericka Klein, who traveled from Waukesha with her 16-month-old son, Parker.
Klein said she’s a longtime Sanders fan who is drawn to his support for universal health care and equal rights for women and people of color.
“I just believe in equality for all,” Klein said.