A Commentary by Stefan Kuzmany
Armin Laschet, the chancellor candidate from Angela Merkel’s CDU, refuses to accept his defeat. In his world, he can still become Germany’s next leader.
One might think that the penny would finally have dropped for Armin Laschet, the chancellor candidate from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). It takes time, of course, to digest an election disaster of the kind that Laschet experienced, and for which he is largely responsible. After all, the CDU on Sunday received its lowest share of the vote ever in postwar Germany.
As such, his initial claim on Sunday that voters had given him a mandate to form a government, is excusable – despite his party receiving 24.1 percent of the vote to 25.7 percent for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). But apparently, a few hours of sleep didn’t help to clear up the misconception. Laschet, it would seem, lives in a completely different reality.
It is a strange alternative world that the failed candidate has assembled for himself. A world in which Germany’s conservatives made a huge “final push” and thus “made up ground.” In Laschet-Land, the reasons for the CDU’s poor showing aren’t obvious, but “multifaceted.” Furthermore, he isn’t the face of this defeat, but only had a “personal share” in the disaster.
In the parallel universe where Laschet lives, there is another Armin Laschet who can still become the chancellor of Germany – out of, and this is where his logic seems a bit iffy, his responsibility to supporters of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Because “those who voted for the CDU and CSU want us to take responsibility and govern.” That is almost certainly true, otherwise those people would have voted for other parties – an argument which can also be applied to all voters of all parties. Which is why using it as a justification is something of a fool’s errand.
Laschet looked tired standing at the podium at CDU headquarters on Monday and you almost felt sorry for him. You almost wanted to walk up and shake him. Hey, Laschet, you lost! You can’t keep acting as though the masses want to see you in the Chancellery! But that’s obviously not possible.
Laschet just kept on talking. In his version of reality, Olaf Scholz of the SPD is in no better shape than he is. On the one side, the CDU leader, who bears the responsibility for producing his party’s worst election result ever. On the other, the SPD candidate who pulled his Social Democrats out of a purgatory that saw it hovering at around 15 percent in the polls for years. In Laschet-Land, they are on equal footing.
And apparently because his brain refused to reflect on the absurdities of his election analysis for even a second, Laschet flipped on the cliché machine and did what he always does when he has to fill a bit of speaking time: He explained the obvious.
For a coalition, you have to speak as equals and overcome differences, he intoned. What is clear, he continued, is that Germany’s chancellor is the person backed by a parliamentary majority. As outlined in the constitution. A coalition is not a forced marriage, he said, nor is it pure arithmetic, it has to be a political project.
Having hit his stride, Laschet waxed lyrical about the government he wants to lead, in which all those involved have the “will” and also the “desire” to be part of a “future-oriented coalition” that focuses on “sustainability.” But his speech exhibited neither will nor desire nor future.
And the coming days will determine just how sustainable he is in his current position as CDU party leader. In the world of Armin Laschet, in any case, the conservatives will now conduct a lively debate, “the big-tent party will determine how to set itself up for the future,” and then it will take off with renewed vigor. “The renewal can take place; it can also take place in a government.”
In reality, though, the CDU is no longer a big-tent party, and it likely won’t be part of a government anymore either. And when it goes through a process of renewal, it will likely do so without Laschet. One might think he would slowly start to realize as much.
But perhaps Armin Laschet needs a couple more days to fully understand. He lost. It’s over.