U.S. President Donald Trump and his policies have become easy fodder for German candidates looking to pick up votes in this month’s forthcoming federal election. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main challenger, Martin Schulz, labelled Trump “irresponsible”.
He described Trump to the broadcaster ZDF as “this irresponsible man in the White House”. “What worries me is that an American president … is sinking to the level of a North Korean dictator,” Schulz added in a separate interview with the RTL channel.
Since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, Germans have lost trust in the United States. According to an opinion poll conducted by Infratest dimap in February 2017, only 22 percent of German respondents considered the United States a reliable partner, down from 59 percent in November 2016.
According to a June 2017 survey by Pew Research, moreover, 87 percent of German respondents have no confidence that Trump will do the right thing in world affairs. That has hurt the United States’ overall image; Pew Research data shows that 62 percent of German respondents have unfavourable views of the country. In 2015, that figure was at 45 percent.
Given such strong feelings, it makes sense that Trump has been a frequent topic in Germany’s ongoing federal election campaign. Whether it is his response to the violence in Charlottesville, his announcement of new sanctions on Russia, his pressure on the German government to increase its defense budget, or the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany, there is no shortage of fodder for German politicians looking to pick up votes.
Most leading candidates, for example, have expressed concern over the right-wing violence in Charlottesville. Chancellor Angela Merkel (from the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU) argued that clear, forceful action must be taken against such racist, far-right violence. Her main opponent, Martin Schulz (from the Social Democratic Party, or SPD), took an even harder line, calling the incident “Nazi terror” and finding it shocking that Trump “remained silent about this kind of terror, or makes comments that would allow those who committed these acts of violence there to feel encouraged.”
Merkel made clear her distinction from Trump and what she called “major differences” in their stances on climate change and his response to the race-fueled violence in Charlottesville. However, she insisted that Germany would work closely with the U.S. president to find a solution to growing tensions with North Korea.
Schulz went further to criticize Trump for “bringing the world to the brink of crisis with his tweets.”
The anti-establishment frustration that swept Donald Trump to power in the United States and led the UK to vote for Brexit exists in Germany, but in a much more moderate form, which will not ultimately be the deciding factor in the national elections in September. That’s the central conclusion of a Bertelsmann Foundation study of “populism” among people eligible to vote in the upcoming federal elections.
The researchers defined populism as hostility to the establishment, the belief that “the people” are basically a homogeneous group and the view that political leadership should be the direct expression of popular will. The study found that 29.2 percent of potential voters were thoroughly populist, 33.9 percent were somewhat populist and 36.9 percent were not populist at all.
The new sanctions law drafted by Congress and signed into law by Trump on August 2 is another subject that received plenty of airtime. Although primarily directed at Russian companies, the law could lead to penalties on German companies that do business with Russian counterparts, particularly in the energy field.