The decline and fall of Martin Schulz and the SPD
The big talk in Germany is not about the coalition - those talks won't start until after the state election in Lower Saxony in mid-month. The big talk is about a 20,000-word story in Der Spiegel by a reporter who accompanied Martin Schulz for his entire campaign, and who tells a revealing story of how Martin Schulz flunked it. This is not a hatchet job, at least not by German standards, although the story leaves no doubt that Schulz was ill-prepared for the job - both in terms of policies and emotionally.
There is no way we can summarise this novella but what we learned is that the disaster was in part due to the fact that the SPD as a whole has lost all traces of a political killer instinct. It has confirmed our view - as we related it here during the campaign - that Schulz underestimated the snake-pit nature of German politics, especially in the beginning when he was riding high. There was a rather glib quote from him where he proudly defended his decision not to talk about any political content. He explained his popularity at the time - this was March - with the observation that he is seen as a more emotional person than Merkel.
In March and May, the SPD lost three state elections. The fall in the SPD's poll rating continued until July. And, as the fall happened, Schulz collapsed emotionally - a process that started relatively early on. This is from July:
"We are in free fall. Perhaps I am the wrong candidate. The people are nice to me, but perhaps they just take pity. I have been sensing this for some time."
Another revealing scene is the preparations for his one and only TV duel with Angela Merkel in early September. During the rehearsal he was too aggressive, and his aides told him to tone it down a bit - which he did in the actual interview. That was a disastrous decision - and set in motion a decline in the polling for the SPD, but also for the CDU and the CSU, as the voters became increasingly disillusioned with the grand coalition's lack of political ambition.
This was the first time that a German politician allowed a journalist to accompany him or her throughout an entire campaign - the tradition started in the US during the 1992 elections, when Bill Clinton had a film team following his every step. Many people admire Schulz for this decision, but we should note that he took it at a time when he thought he could win the elections. In the case of Clinton, Barack Obama, and Emmanuel Macron, the live coverage of the campaign helped to strengthen the aura of a winner. In the case of Schulz, it has destroyed him. We expect him not to last as SPD chairman. The SPD needs a complete reboot for which the entire leadership, including the new SPD Bundestag leader Andrea Nahles, is not suited. The SPD's decline is not the work of Schulz. After his departure it will continue.