Thursday's debate between President Joe Biden and Republican candidate Donald Trump | Credit: Courtesy

At a time when many Democratic party activists and leaders are looking for windows to jump out of — or new candidates to draft to run against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — in response to President Joe Biden’s startlingly abysmal performance in his debate with Trump this Thursday evening, Congressmember Salud Carbajal is remaining low in the boat and not inclined to look for other horses to back. 

“I’m not oblivious. It was a sluggish performance,” Carbajal stated. “It wasn’t what I was hoping for. It was a sluggish night, but you still have to focus on what the choice is. Admittedly, Biden didn’t perform well. But Trump, he performed terribly. On one hand you have Biden, who has a lifetime of accomplishment. And on the other, you have someone who is bat-shit crazy, lies through his teeth, calls names, and is a would-be dictator.”

Congressmember Salud Carbajal | Credit: File

Carbajal said he watched the debate — the cause of much existential despair among party activists — alone in his apartment in Washington, D.C., without any alcoholic beverages, food to eat, or popcorn “to throw at the TV.”

Carbajal — formerly a Santa Barbara County supervisor — was first elected to Congress in November 2016, the same year Trump was elected president, who then — as now — was running on a stridently anti-immigrant platform. During Thursday’s debate, Trump harked back repeatedly to the “18 million” immigrants he claimed got across the borders illegally under Biden’s watch, a number that has been challenged by debate fact-checkers. Trump characterized many border crossers as “criminals” or escapees from “insane asylums.” 

Carbajal took exception to Trump’s use of the term “rat’s nest” to describe the United States as a warren of illegal immigrants with proclivities toward criminal behavior. Likewise, Carbajal took issue with Trump’s charge that in Virginia, “post-birth abortions” were possible. “He just makes stuff up and says things that are totally not factual.”

Carbajal acknowledged that some party elders are looking for alternatives to Biden to run against Trump. Such discussions need to run their course, he said, but he termed such efforts as “premature and misplaced.” Everyone in politics, he said, has a bad night at the podium during political debates; he certainly has. 

Biden’s behavior and demeanor proved especially alarming not just because he was merely not sharp, but because his voice would trail off as his thoughts — on occasion — jumped the track. His jaw, at times, was agape, and he moved slowly and appeared confused. All this served to reinforce the perception that he was already too old for the job and could not beat Trump.

Carbajal said he understands that “people are scared to death Trump’s going to win,” but stressed, “Biden’s the guy who has demonstrated that he can beat Trump because he already has.” 

The growing concern among party strategists has already been whether voters will turn out this November in similar numbers for Biden as they did in 2020; concern about inflation, the economy, Gaza, and other issues is undermining his support in key constituencies who came out in large numbers four years ago. The fear isn’t so much that previous Biden supporters will switch to Trump so much as they won’t bother voting at all. 

“Not voting is a vote for Trump,” Carbajal said. “That’s as simple as I can put it.”

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