After nearly 12 years in office, Angela Merkel’s reelection battles, if one can call them that, tend to take on a familiar pattern.
Early in the election year, the opposition Social Democratic Party settles on a sacrificial lamb, and the chosen one begins an ultimately futile attempt to rattle the unshakable German chancellor.
The first SPD forays are usually batted away not by Ms. Merkel, but one of her lieutenants, often a lesser-known from the provinces, to spare the chancellor getting her hands dirty so early.
So it was telling this week when Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party brought out its biggest gun – the gruff, battle-tested finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, to loft the first salvo toward Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament and the SPD’s latest candidate.
In Der Spiegel, Mr. Schäuble compared Mr. Schulz, who has attacked what he sees as widespread misery and poverty in Germany, as the German version of Donald Trump. The message of Mr. Schäuble’s broadside was clear: Ms. Merkel is the candidate of stability, not chaos.
“When Schulz calls out to supporters to “Make Europe Great Again,’’ that is almost Trump verbatim,” Mr. Schäuble told the magazine. Getting tarred as the European Trump is as low as it can get in Germany at the moment. A recent Spiegel poll found that only 15 percent of Germans think the U.S. president is competent, and 87 percent believe he is not good for Germany.
But the fact that Mr. Schäuble even bothered to take on Mr. Schulz – and that more than seven months before the September 24 election – shows just how worried the CDU is about losing Ms. Merkel, and with her, the party’s long hold on power in Berlin.
Their angst is not unfounded. Since the SPD ditched former vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a forceful but unpopular candidate, on January 31, the SPD has shot up in the polls, and now has 31 percent, trailing the CDU with 34 percent, according to a February 15 survey by Forsa.
On January 26, with Gabriel still on the ticket, the SPD had just 23 percent, according to Allensbach.
Either party will need a political partner to rule. This week, the Greens stood at 7 percent, the Left Party at 8 percent, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party at 9 percent, and the business- friendly Free Democrats at 5 percent, the minimum level needed to enter parliament.