Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders got a rock star’s welcome when he spoke in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday in what was theoretically a book tour stop but amounted to more of a political rally, urging progressives to play by new rules as they resist President Trump’s administration.
“We are looking at a totally new political world,” he said. “If we play by the old rules, we will lose and they will win. Our job is not to play by the old rules.”
Sanders, 75, used the stage at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel as part of Los Angeles Times Ideas Exchange to buttress his pitch to reshape and redefine the Democratic Party after the 2016 election.
He got the crowd roaring by tearing into Trump for repeating false claims that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally voted in November.
“I say this with no pleasure, my wife dislikes me saying this, but the truth is that Trump is a pathological liar,” he said, reiterating a statement he made a week prior on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Either he knows that he is lying or even more dangerously, he does not know that he is lying.”
Since Trump’s electoral college victory, Sanders has secured a spot on the Senate Democrats’ leadership team and begun to reassert the populist political vision that won him millions of votes against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.
Sanders applauded the activism that has sprung up since Trump’s inauguration and said Democrats and progressives needed to continue to build a resistance to Trump as well as a vision for the future.
“We can defeat Trump and Trumpism and the Republican right-wing ideology,” he said. “We have to understand, despair and throwing up your hands — that ain’t an option.”
Sanders believes a majority of voters agree with progressive values and Trump has a “mandate for nothing,” but he sought to explain Trump’s electoral college win despite losing the popular vote, arguing the party did not do enough to appeal to economically downtrodden industrial workers.
Sanders said Trump — whom he called a “phony billionaire” — seized on anxiety and fear among working-class voters on his way to victory. The issue, he argued, was not that Trump won the election “so much as the Democratic Party lost the election” by not answering the call of those workers.
He asked voters to put themselves in the “hearts and the souls” of workers who have lost jobs and who feel left behind by the global economy.
Sanders repeated many of the populist platforms he ran on, including rallying against the influence of money in politics and a financial system he says rewards Wall Street bankers while the American middle class shrinks.
The key to a progressive resurgence, he said, could be turning Trump’s message on its head by persuading workers who have lost jobs that foreign workers who come to the U.S. in search of a better life are not their enemies. Instead, he said, corporate greed is the main cause of their economic woes.
Sanders began on Sunday by thanking California voters who cast ballots for him, and shouts of “Bernie 2020” rang out multiple times in the sold-out theater.
Clinton won Los Angeles County and California by large margins, but Sanders found support in pockets of Santa Monica and Silver Lake, as well as northeast and downtown Los Angeles.
Sanders’ campaign found a fount of support in Los Angeles during the primary, holding rallies with hip rock bands and liberal celebrities and drawing cheers from picnickers while walking around Echo Park Lake.
Feb. 21, 11:50 a.m. : This article was updated with an additional quote from Sanders about Trump.
This article was originally published Feb. 19 at 10:20 p.m..