Hoping to help trigger a turnaround for Democrats, the party’s new national chairman teamed up with former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Wednesday for a series of blistering attacks on President Donald Trump, urging thousands of people at a campaign-style rally to seize every opportunity to resist the president and his political party.
Sanders was the main draw, and for 44 minutes he excoriated Trump and billionaire elites that he said are decimating the nation’s middle class. He said the crowd at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami sounded as if it was ready for a revolution — and pledged his support.
“Donald Trump became president of the United States because he said to people here in Florida, all over this country, that he was going to stand with the working class of this country. And I think what man of the people who voted for him are now seeing that he lied, that he never had any intention of standing with working people.”
Sanders said activism is essential — and that moaning and groaning and making jokes about Trump isn’t sufficient.
He and Tom Perez, the new Democratic National Committee chairman, are on a national tour attempting to capitalize on discontent with Trump and reverse the Democrats’ precipitous decline during the past four elections — a series of contests that’s seen the party lose the presidency, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and multiple governorships and state legislatures.
The eight-state Sanders-Perez “Come Together and Fight Back” tour began Monday in Maine and ends Saturday in Nevada, two states Clinton won in November. In between, stops in six states that voted for Trump: Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Utah and Arizona.
Sanders blasted the pharmaceutical industry and the “crooks on Wall Street” and decried the “moral depravity” represented by the super-rich controlling so much of the nation’s wealth. “Since the year 2000 we have seen a tenfold increase in the number of billionaires in this country, and yet you have veterans sleeping out on the streets in Miami,” he said.
He said it’s “pathetic” that so few Americans vote. “I understand why so many people are disillusioned. I understand why so many people are not voting,” he said. “They look at Tallahassee and they look at Washington and they say ‘Who the hell cares about me?’”
He called for overhauling the American health care system, replacing it with a government run, single-payer system that he described as Medicare for all. He said health care should be a right guaranteed to all Americans. Sanders said it is especially important in Florida — where people know global warming is real — to take on “the damn fossil fuel industry.”
Perez, who supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders in 2016, depicted Trump as a liar whose policies show contempt for the very working class people the president pledged as a candidate to help.
“Our unity is our greatest strength. And our unity is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” Perez said. He said Trump’s presidency is about to hit its 100-day mark, and lamented that it “feels like 100 years” for too many people. “It’s chaos. It’s carnage. He’s a damn liar,” he said.
Perez repeatedly used a barnyard expletive to describe health care policies from Trump and the Republicans who control Congress. “The Republican leadership doesn’t give a s— about people who are suffering,” he said. Perez’s language prompted criticism from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. She in a statement said Perez and Sanders “brought their unhinged, profanity-laced roadshow to Miami.”
If Trump made fewer trips to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Perez said, potential cuts to the Meals on Wheels program for seniors could be averted. He said the failure of Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature to expand the Medicaid program for the poor “is the dumbest thing I ever could imagine.” And he mocked Ben Carson, the unsuccessful 2016 Republican presidential candidate who is now secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Noting Carson’s recent visit to a housing project in Miami — funded by a program Trump’s proposed budget would cut — he said it was poetic justice that he got stuck in an elevator while there.
The crowd — the Knight Center manager said there were 2,100 people — frequently interrupted Sanders with cheers. Though Sanders sought the Democratic presidential nomination, and he is often aligned with Democrats in the Senate, he’s actually an independent senator from Vermont.
Though he’s well known, and had many vocal supporters in Florida during the 2016 presidential primary contest, the Sunshine State wasn’t a Sanders stronghold. He did little campaigning in the state; Clinton won 64.4 percent of the vote in the Florida primary and 73 percent of the vote in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
People who attended the rally offered two reasons why there were attending a mass political event when no election is on the horizon. Trump was the motivation for some; passion for Sanders was the driving force for others.
“Every day there needs to be a visible demonstration that we’re standing up to the horrendous views of this administration,” said Ron Pomerantz of Hollywood. “There is nothing civil, there is nothing positive, there is nothing humanistic that is going to come out of this administration.”
Susan King of Miami said she attended the rally because of Trump. “We have an idiot in the White House. I want him impeached. He doesn’t know what he is doing.”
Iris Corbin of Coconut Creek said she drove to Miami because of her support for Sanders. “I think he’s a wonderful man. I believe in everything he stands for,” she said. “He gives a lot of hope. Right now, the man running the country, he scares me, and this man [Sanders] gives me hope.”
Banessa Moreno, 24, of Westchester, an environmental sciences major at Florida International University, and Eva Oliveri, 18, of Coconut Creek, both wearing Sanders T-shirts, came because of the 75-year-old senator.
“I feel the 70-plus guy from Vermont is the only politician, if you can even call him that, who is discussing things important to our future,” said Oliveri, a senior at Grandview Preparatory School in Boca Raton.
Juan Cuba, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, said he felt “an incredible energy” from the crowd — something he said he’s felt since November when the Democrats lost. “This country will never be Trump’s America. Because America is not a thing to possess, but an idea to embody.”
He and other Democrats also sought to capitalize on the Tallahassee turmoil surrounding the racist, sexist remarks by Miami-Dade Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles. Cuba called for protesters to gather outside Artiles’ district office on Thursday. Florida Democratic Chairman Stephen Bittel said, “We will not rest until he is out of office.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Sanders spent about an hour in Miami’s Little Haiti and an hour in Liberty City. He mentioned both stops Wednesday night, criticizing billionaires he said were out to gentrify Little Haiti and the poor job prospects and educational challenges in Liberty City.
Fixing the Democratic Party’s ills is far more complicated than installing new leaders or putting people from different camps on stage together. Though Florida is a closely contested state in presidential elections, Democrats face challenges outside party strongholds in places like South Florida. Five of the six members of Congress who represent parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties are Democrats.
Statewide, it’s a different story: Democrats have lost all but six of the last 27 statewide elections. A Democrat hasn’t been elected governor since 1994.
Perez, who was secretary of labor under President Barack Obama, became party chairman in February. He said he’s been heartened by the opposition to Trump. “The most remarkable thing of the first 100 days has been the activism of all of you across America,” he said
Florida’s Republican Party chairman, Blaise Ingoglia, mocked the idea that Sanders, a self-described socialist, is the big draw for Democrats.
“Simply put, the Democrats need a serious wake-up call,” Ingoglia said in a written statement. “ Democrats, your so called ‘Unity Tour’ is highlighting the lack of leadership within your party and further proving how out of touch you are with the American people.”