Merz, Röttgen or Braun? Starting on Saturday, the CDU members will decide who should be at their party leadership in the future. In a direct comparison at the Trielli, all three want to cut in a few more stakes. But only two have a hammer with them.
They share the stage that evening and also the questions – Friedrich Merz, Norbert Röttgen and Helge Braun are in the setting that should look as much like an arena as the current infection situation allows: rising benches around them, on which about two dozen CDU members are spread out. They all submitted their questions to the three applicants for the CDU chairmanship beforehand and were selected to put their question live that evening.
In the only triell in this competition, which CDU members can decide from Saturday, nothing will be left to chance. Deutsche Welle presenter Maria Grunwald makes this immediately clear – no watch will stop the length of the answers, but Grunwald himself is professional enough to put the candidates in the time barriers. Have all three answer all questions, in alternating order and in one minute.
Anyone who as a viewer has survived the leisurely to sleepy preliminary rounds of the last few days, in which Merz, Röttgen and Braun each responded solely to questions from interested parties online, is grateful for the pace and the set of rules that the moderator sets here. The competitors themselves may also be grateful – after all, the significantly higher dynamism gives the three of them the chance to shift up two gears themselves in terms of verve and temperament. And if you apply to get a people’s party out of the existential crisis, that certainly can’t do any harm.
Merz, Röttgen and Braun mark out what should be done in the Corona policy from their point of view (act across party lines and vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate), they explain their understanding of the “C” in the CDU, the one foundation another compass and compels the third to humility. When it comes to climate protection, all three see a great need to invest in future-proof technologies, and they reject the option of dual leadership at the party – almost in unison.
Have you misheard? Merz praises the previous speakers
At first, one still believes to have misheard when Friedrich Merz declares for the third time after a short time that he shares the assessment of the previous speakers, which he then praises as “well presented”. On the other hand – Merz has long wanted to cast off the role of provocative and he has also not distinguished himself as a team player in the past. So why not take advantage of the opportunities and show respect and appreciation in questions where he already has the same position in terms of content. In general – with two dozen questioners and three respondents, who all belong to the same party, one should have looked for potential conflict separately. The CDU has clearly decided against it.
Friedrich Merz may well be accommodating, who already made a noticeable effort in the preliminary round to appear a little less pithy, instead more integrative. When it comes to questions such as their own leadership qualities, the differences between the three become quite clear: After the “deep turning point” and the move into the opposition, Merz immediately formulates the short-term election goals – four state elections in 2022 come first. At the same time, the party must bring renewal on the way, with specific tasks for all deputy party leaders, in favor of visibility as a team.
Röttgen, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of the People’s Party, on “social connectivity”, the claim to represent the entire center and to become a leader again in “the big questions and debates of this time”. Finally, Braun asks what a modern people’s party will look like by 2022? They need a chairman with the ability “to make many other faces shine as well”. The task now is to get young and old, East and West again interested in the CDU. “You can only do that together”.
If one only interprets this initial focus, the task that the respective candidate names first and defines himself as the future chairman, then this results in exaggerated form: Friedrich Merz for the CDU is about maintaining and returning to power. Norbert Röttgen wants the party to be the leader in the social discourse and Helge Braun strives for everyone in the CDU to feel comfortable and seen.
More clear edge than a hands-on party
Of course, all three candidates also bring in the first-mentioned aspects of their competitors in the course of the question and answer session. But Merz exudes the greatest security and conviction when he explains guidelines and strategies how he combines east, west and south in his team, wants to impose a cell phone ban in committee meetings and promises what happened in Thuringia will be “under my chairmanship do not repeat”. Much clear edge, less “ear to the grassroots” and a hands-on party.
But Röttgen can also do alpha males, albeit in a different way. He offers the most ruthless analyzes. The plea of previous speaker Braun to understand diversity of opinion, liberal and conservative roots as once with Heiner Geißler and Alfred Dregger as a strength for the party, Röttgen converts into the question of who in the CDU is the Dregger or the Geißler of today. “People who stood for different content and wrestled with each other – I think we no longer have that.” Instead, the party would “argue about something, about positions, about power, about influence” in a way that “does not conform to the rules of civil decency”.
In the attention competition with Merz and Röttgen, the jovial head of the Chancellery Braun finds it difficult to set clear points of his own, even if he has concrete plans, for example to shape the renewal of the party from within – with regular online formats that also support the base could contribute to federal issues in the municipalities. The content may not be the decisive factor here, but too often an attitude shimmers through in Braun’s pleadings that seems to say: That would be my suggestion, but we can do it differently.
Röttgen is toying with “target group formats”. At the CDU it is often the case that women go to the city association and meet a society of older men there, “who are sufficient. Then they are there once and will not come back for the next five years”. The candidate wants to prevent this through online forums especially for women. Merz has – unlike its competitors – introduced a man for the general secretary post. But he does not want to ignore the problem of women and announces that he will get personally involved in the constituencies so that women have more positions open as direct candidates. Similar in aim to its competitors, only the method sounds more brutal.
At the end of the candidate show, each of the three can show a photo they have brought with them and finally recommend themselves for the office in 90 seconds. Merz shows himself in the team with his two desired general secretaries, Röttgen shows himself in the garden with his wife and daughter, Braun shows young CDU supporters in the enthusiasm of victory after the 2017 federal election. He himself is not shown in the photo. Braun’s selection appears to be the most modest, most sympathetic, but this trait could be his undoing in the competition for the top position: Even if the two competitors draw the sharper picture of themselves in the end.