Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Typically reserved and measured at the podium, former President Barack Obama didn't hold back Friday in a scathing critique of President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Washington.
Obama's return to the political spotlight came at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
The Illinois speech, in which Obama referred to the "state of our democracy," was designed to deliver a message for Democrats for the coming midterm elections.
Since leaving office in January 2017, Obama has largely refrained from directly criticizing Trump or his administration. Friday was different.
"Over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party," Obama said. "I don't mean to pretend I'm channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that's not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party."
Obama took Trump to task by saying he's played on voters' fears and crafted divisive policies.
"It's not conservative. It sure isn't normal. It's radical," he said. "It's a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters even when it hurts the country. It's a vision that says the few who can afford high-price lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.
"It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years, a fear and anger that's rooted in our past but it's also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.
"What happened to the Republican Party?"
Trump hit back at Obama and the Democratic Party during a speech Friday in Fargo, N.D., saying that if a Democrat had won in 2016, the economy would be shrinking by 4.2 percent instead of growing by 4.2 percent.
"Obama was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that's happening," Trump said.
Obama visited the university to accept the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government. His speech was intended to spur action among voters -- and capitalize on his continued popularity within the Democratic Party. Saturday, he will visit Anaheim, Calif., to stump for Democratic candidates seeking office in November.
Last month, Obama endorsed more than 80 Democratic candidates for state and federal offices in California.
"The real value of Obama coming is to motivate Democrats who live in those districts who are typically outnumbered to turn out in larger numbers than normally would," said California Republican strategist Dan Schnur. "There are plenty of swing districts around the state and around the country that used to be red and are now blue. These are still red districts, but they don't necessarily like Donald Trump."
Republicans hold a 23-seat majority in the House. Two are held by Southern California Republicans, Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Ed Royce, who are both retiring. In other districts, polls indicate incumbent Republican Rep. Mimi Waters trails Democratic opponent Katie Porter -- and 15-term GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is trailing Democrat Harley Rouda in the heavily Republican 48th District.
Later this month, Obama will campaign in Pennsylvania and participate in a party fundraiser in New York City.