Damaged Laschet vs rising Baerbock

The two biggest German parties finally have their candidates for the elections in fall. While there are no losers within the Greens, there are many losers in the CDU, the most important one the chairman and now chancellor candidate. The CDU/CSU turned it into a dirty power struggle that severely damaged Laschet. Even with second place, the new chancellor could end up being Baerbock.

Early this week, the two biggest political parties in Germany according to surveys from the past months, the CDU/CSU and the Greens, were supposed to present their candidates for the national elections in late September. However, the process of choosing and announcing their candidates could not have been more different. The (formerly chaotic) Greens stated a roadmap that the two co-chairpersons would decide among themselves and then announce it. And this is just what they did. No leaking of information, no mud-wrestling, no party infights, no dirty laundry. On Monday morning, Robert Habeck, co-chairperson since January 2018 took the stage in Berlin: “Annalena Baerbock is a fighting, focused, strong-willed woman who knows exactly what she wants and who will represent the Green program with passion in this campaign. She will lead us in this election campaign.”
 
The CDU/CSU, the conservative, supposedly ‘serious’ party did basically the opposite. The party leaders of the CDU (Armin Laschet) and its sister party in Bavaria, CSU (Markus Söder), both announced that they wanted to be the candidate. They also agreed to come to an agreement and to present the common candidate. That was the theory at least. In practice, what happened could be titled “the destruction of the CDU,” which initially was the title of a video produced by Youtuber Rezo in May 2019 ahead of the European Parliament elections. Rezo argued that “the facts and evidence simply suggest that the CDU is destroying itself, its reputation, and its election results.”
 
Over the past weeks, this destruction happened from within. Although Laschet had a clear vote within the CDU presidency a week ago, Söder ignored it, even if he previously said he would accept Laschet as candidate if he had a clear majority of the highest CDU body. He called the CDU presidium meeting a "back room" and referred to his significantly better ratings in polls. Slowly, the CDU's support for its chairman began to crumble, with eastern German CDU members in particular speaking out in favor of Söder. At times, one had the impression that some CDU MPs were virtually livestreaming to the yellow press from what were private meetings. On Monday night, Laschet pushed for another vote and received 31 votes out of 46 from his own party. 9 voted for Söder, 6 abstained.
 
Finally, at noon on Tuesday, Söder declared in a half-hearted statement that he would bow to the vote of the CDU "despite great support from the population." The secretary general of the CSU commented that Söder had been the “candidate of the hearts.”
 
While there are no losers within the Greens, not even Habeck, who had uncomplainingly submitted to party discipline that a woman always gets the first pick, there are many losers in the CDU, the most important one the chairman and now chancellor candidate. Laschet now knows that a large part of his own party does not consider him a suitable candidate. Some governors and MPs, plus the CDU’s youth organization (Junge Union), have come out in favor of Söder. How will they now get involved in the election campaign? It’s hard to imagine them enthusiastically campaigning for someone they see as unsuitable. The entire CDU/CSU has been damaged. Unity is one of the most important virtues in an election campaign and the current CDU/CSU has the opposite of that.
 
Nevertheless, this unfavorable starting position does not mean that the tide is turning toward the Greens. The gap in polls between the two parties is still around 10 percent. Baerbock, as a young woman (40) who has held a top position for only three years and has neither been part of a state government nor a minister, also must reckon with a lot of reservations among non-Green voters. But the race is more open than it has been for a long time, also with regard to subsequent coalitions. Even with second place, the new chancellor could end up being Baerbock, since she could govern either in a so-called traffic light coalition with SPD and FDP, or with SPD and leftist Left. However, the most likely scenario is a CDU/CSU-Green coalition. Laschet would be chancellor and Baerbock would be a minister and/or deputy chancellor.

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