Merkel’s Method: Another Encore
Germany’s summer vacation is about to be in full force and, with it, the so-called summer hole (Sommerloch). It’s often a silly time in the news, but is also a temporary respite before the political headwinds get stronger in the remaining eight weeks before the national elections on September 24.
Chancellor Merkel may be going on vacation soon with a somewhat relaxed attitude: she has a strong standing in the polls and her chief challenger—Martin Schulz—trails her significantly at this point. She’s seen three consecutive state elections recently go in her favor with CDU victories in each one.
Fortunately for Germans, they are spared the nonstop political campaigns we suffer through in the U.S., and focus on the elections will pick up at the end of August. Barring any dramatic events such as another terrorist attack or some other attention-grabbing incident, the final weeks of the race will be driven by the core issues: economic stability, domestic security, and the credibility of the candidates.
Things can happen. Helmut Kohl struggled in his campaign for a third term in 1990, but then the Wall fell, unification occurred, and he faced down his opposition. Gerhard Schröder faced strong headwinds in 2002, but then a massive flood occurred and he showed up in rubber boots as someone who was focused on the immediacy of that emergency. It didn’t hurt that he was engaged in a spitting match with George W. Bush over the impending Iraq war.
In her first election victory in 2005, Merkel’s major challenge was to defeat an incumbent chancellor but the next two victories occurred amid a global recession in 2009 and global turmoil in 2013. Some people now call her the Teflon Chancellor, able to deflect and diminish problems better than other political actors. This fits with her predecessors’ strategies often to shape their campaigns with a message of stability and calm steerage of the ship of state.
In 1957, Konrad Adenauer won a one-time absolute majority with the message calling for “no experiments” in the middle of Cold War storms.
Sixty years later, there’s no lack of political storms—be they domestic, European, in the Middle East, or even across the Atlantic. The difficulty of creating a consensus across these various divides was visible at the recent G20 meeting in Hamburg.
Yet Merkel deals with all these challenges by trying to defuse them. Merkel is “no drama,” as the reference has emerged over these past dozen years.
While most Germans may take a break from politics for the moment, none of the challenges that lie ahead will be on vacation. And two months from now, Germans will be deciding who is the best candidate to confront them. Right now, it looks like it will be another call for Merkel. But the lessons of elections in 2016 are still being learned in 2017. Stay tuned.