Donald Trump Evokes George Wallace for Civil Rights Icon John Lewis

PHOTO: Rep. John Lewis at the premiere of Selma at The Newseum on Dec. 11, 2014 in Washington. Presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses during the Republican Presidential Debate on Oct. 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colo. PlayLeah Puttkammer/WireImage | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis sees parallels between the presidential campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and George Wallace, the late segregationist governor of Alabama.

Like Wallace, Trump is taking advantage of divisions in the political climate for his own benefit, the Georgia Democrat argued in an interview Monday with The New York Times and CNBC’s John Harwood.

“I think Wallace said a lot of stuff just to get ahead,” Lewis, 75, said in the wide-ranging interview. “He used the tools of demagoguery around the issue of race and the federal government telling us what do to and how to do it.”

Trump thinks inflaming political tensions “would be his ticket to the White House,” said Lewis, whose scars are still visible from the fractured skull he suffered in 1965 attempting to march across Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge with other protesters.

“Many of my Republican friends fear where he can take them,” he said of Trump, 69. “They feel that it may mean the destruction of the Republican Party.”

Lewis also had praise for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership and focus on fighting poverty, calling his interest in addressing poverty “sincere.”

“He's a thinker, and I think he's going to work very hard to try to bring us all together,” Lewis said. “It is my hope for the sake of the country, and for the two-party system, that he's able to do it.”