(CNN)President Donald Trump is attacking it. Moderate Democratic candidates are warning against it, too. But in a speech Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders leaned in to his democratic socialist vision, casting his policies as the "unfinished business" of the New Deal era, and argued that the nation must embrace his politics in order to defeat rising global authoritarianism.
Bernie Sanders makes the case for democratic socialism as Trump attacks and moderate Democrats worry
"It is my very strong belief that the United States must reject that path of hatred and divisiveness and instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love," Sanders said to applause at George Washington University. "And that is the path that I call democratic socialism."
Over nearly 45 minutes, Sanders quoted in his defense a range of historical figures, from Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also recalled comments from figures like President Ronald Reagan, who during his pre-White House days served as a go-to spokesman for conservatives and used "socialism" as a slur against an assortment of liberal policy projects, including now popular programs like Medicare.
Sanders also took aim at Trump, calling him a friend of "corporate socialism" and the American face of an international "movement toward oligarchy (that) runs parallel to the growth of authoritarian regimes."
Sanders' speech, which echoed in parts a similar address he gave during his last presidential campaign, came amid a growing backlash, from both Republicans and some Democrats, to his unlikely rise into the upper echelons of American politics. He began the 2016 Democratic presidential primary as a relative unknown, a Senate backbencher generally viewed -- even by himself -- as an outsider inside the Washington beltway. But his message gained traction when pitted against eventual nominee Hillary Clinton, a pragmatism-preaching liberal who was ultimately defeated, in part, by Trump's right-wing populist appeal.
Sanders entered the 2020 race offering much the same message as four years ago, but with loftier electoral expectations and a more mature political operation. He also, now, has a more useful foil when it comes time to defend his agenda -- the Trump administration.
"When Trump screams socialism, all of his hypocrisy will not be lost on the American people," Sanders said Wednesday. "When Trump attacks socialism, I am reminded again of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: 'This country has socialism for the rich; rugged individualism for the poor.'"
Sanders described Trump, Wall Street and other powerful corporations as a common enemy lined up against the shared interests of the working and middle classes -- and dismissed criticism coming from the President and his allies as transparently self-serving and insincere.
"While President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don't really oppose all forms of socialism," Sanders said. "They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires."
Promising to continue to roll out new proposals to complement his signature "Medicare for All," single-payer health care plan, Sanders also described a