Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Health Care: Top health official defends contract payments to Trump allies | Vaping advocates confident Trump will turn from flavor ban | Sanders gets endorsement from nurses union Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE (I-Vt.) leveled a forceful attack on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE on Tuesday, accusing the commander in chief of seeking to secure his own reelection by playing to the country’s racial, economic and political divisions.

Sanders’s remarks came minutes after Trump formally launched his 2020 reelection bid at a campaign rally in Orlando, Fla. In a livestreamed response to that rally, Sanders cast himself as the antithesis of Trump and pleaded with voters to deny the president a second term in the White House.

“We have a president who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a homophobe, who is a xenophobe and he is a religious bigot,” Sanders said. “His strategy to win reelection is to divide people up.”

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Speaking to supporters in Orlando on Tuesday, Trump touched on a series of familiar talking points. He decried special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt,” railed against journalists covering the event and touted an economic boom under his tenure in office.

Sanders’s rebuttal, however, took aim at what the Vermont senator said Trump failed to address at the rally, including the threat posed by climate change and staggering economic inequality in spite of low unemployment rates and a soaring stock market.

“Listening to Trump made me feel very much that he is a man living in a parallel universe, a man out of touch with the various needs of people,” Sanders said.

For Sanders, it was a particularly pointed response, geared more toward building an electoral case against Trump than furthering the calls for political revolution that have defined much of the senator’s career. At no point did he mention his democratic socialist ideology or criticize compromise-minded politics.

Instead, he made the argument that the country’s top priority, for the time being, should be to reject Trump at the ballot box in 2020.

That may prove to be a particularly effective message for Sanders in an election cycle in which Democratic primary voters are consumed with defeating Trump.

The Vermont senator has stagnated in polls in recent weeks, while other candidates, like Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Saagar Enjeti rips Buttigieg for praising Obama after misquote Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE, have risen. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report Giuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry MORE, who has made beating Trump the central theme of his presidential campaign, remains the front-runner.

Indeed, a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed six Democratic presidential hopefuls defeating Trump in Florida in hypothetical match-ups. In that survey, Sanders led Trump by 6 points.

Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump’s political future was precarious, arguing that “poll after poll is showing the country that Trump is falling further behind in terms of his ability to get reelected.”

And while much of Sanders’s speech touched on familiar topics for the senator — stagnant wages, college affordability and the promise of universal health care — he urged voters to first reject Trump in 2020.

“We got a lot to do,” he said. “But our job most importantly is to defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country. Our job is to keep our eyes on the prize.”

“Our job is to resist Trump’s effort to divide us up.”

This report was updated on June 19 at 7:30 a.m.