Opinion polls can be changed, character cannot. That is the logic behind the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) backing of Armin Laschet, their struggling leader, to head this year’s federal election campaign.
With exactly half a year to polling day, Laschet’s chances of succeeding Angela Merkel as chancellor have echoes of a wily Irish farmer’s directions: if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.
A series of sobering opinion polls suggest German voters are unimpressed by the smiling 60-year-old Rhinelander. Just a third of CDU voters in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) favour him as chancellor candidate, according to one weekend poll, while a second analysis suggested Laschet will be short of a parliamentary majority no matter what post-campaign coalition he seeks.
And yet, on Monday, Laschet convinced all 15 CDU state boards to give him the benefit of the doubt, allowing him present himself to the country as the natural successor to Adenauer, Kohl and Merkel.
They know Laschet has turned things around before, confounding the pollsters in 2017 to become NRW minister president, a state with more people than the neighbouring Netherlands and a GDP more than twice that of Ireland.
His party knows that rejecting Laschet now, not even three months after electing him leader, would wound him politically and trigger a third leadership battle in as many years.
And pressing Laschet to defer to Bavaria’s CSU leader Markus Söder, not matter how tempting, would create more problems than it solved.
Most CDU figures with personal experience of working with Söder as Bavarian minister president speak warily, suggesting his self-serving temperament would be a poor fit for the Berlin chancellery. And a CSU chancellor heading a CDU-lead government is unknown territory.
Aachen native Laschet may be less spectacular than his Bavarian rival but he is a unifier. Or as he puts it: “Tough in business, friendly in tone.”
Playing a key role in Monday’s decision was elder CDU statesman Wolfgang Schäuble.
He reminded colleagues how in 1979, the CDU/CSU parliamentary party held a secret ballot and chose CSU leader Franz-Josef Strauss to lead the campaign over CDU man Ernst Albrecht, father of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The outcome: the bombastic Bavarian lost the 1980 election and left the Bundestag parliamentary party bitterly divided.
Monday’s vote is mostly about CDU self-preservation and, secondly, a post-dated vote of confidence in Armin Laschet.