God bless the AfD! Many a mainstream journalist begins his day with this kind of quick, blasphemous prayer. In an election campaign that is about as exciting as Bingo Night at the old folks’ home, the dauntless warriors around the two lead candidates, Alice Weidel and Alexander Garland, are pure TNT.
The troop under the sky-blue AfD banner brings scandal, conflict and dazzlingly clear images of the enemy into the debate. If Count Dracula, Darth Vader or Lord Voldemort had a party card, it would naturally be the AfD. Most of the political editors at Tageszeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bild and Bild am Sonntagwould agree with this statement without batting an eyelash, and only half in jest. They are exerting themselves with all their might to demonize the AfD personnel. It borders on the ridiculous. When the SPD politician Aydan Özoğuz expresses the opinion that “there is no such thing as a mainstream German culture,” and the lead candidate Alexander Garland, unsubtly but quite conventionally expresses the desire to send her back to her native Anatolia, this is hardly cause to fulminate about a Goebbels-like “Sportpalast” speech.
There was no mention of a fear Garland expressed this Spring in an interview with Preussische Allgemeine Zeitung . He saw the small parties being largely unnoticed in the election campaign, while the attention of the public would focus solely on the duel between the chancellor candidates Merkel and Schulz. There was no polarization. The contest between the two is too uneven. Mutti has grown to become the German uber-mother and the man from Würselen has shrunk to small-town proportions. The election seems pre-determined. Tamely and gently, they circle one another. The much ballyhooed TV duel last Sunday was a cozy duet, a festival of nothings. “No answers, no objectives. Not middle class, not liberal, not patriotic. Nothing. Just no attacks, no follow-up,” griped Nadine Hoffman of Thuringia’s AfD about the meeting of the two “careful powdered figures.” Her conclusion: “Even though not intended by the vacuous and incurious, the AfD has won.”
It remains to be seen how strongly the lame Merkel-Schulz show will be profiled. The most diverse forces are at work, more on the AfD than on other parties. Some cost them votes, others create votes. The AfD is especially strong on the internet. Its Facebook page shows 338,000 ‘Likes.” The CDU gets 143,000, the SPD 157,000, the CSU 186,000. The AfD also dominates in Twitter. No other party was chosen more often in the last three months. Now the specialists of a US ad agency will go digitally fishing on the internet for even more potential AfD votes. The recently-engaged agency is Harris Media. It has already helped the English UKIP in the Brexit effort and was briefly with Donald Trump in the digital aspect of his election campaign. Two Harris men are sitting in the AfD Berlin office, “sparkling with ideas,” declared executive board member George Pazderski to the Berlin Tagesspiegel.
For the battle on the streets, courage and pertinacity instead of ideas are needed. AfD people here are, practically speaking, in enemy territory. Posters are destroyed almost as soon as they are put up. Nuremberg Mayor Christian Vogel of the SPD refuses the AfD’s lead candidate permission to give a speech. The “City of Peace and Human Rights” could be damaged by Gauland’s appearance, he lets it be known. In Bochum, a member of the Youth AfD is attacked by suspected left extremists, receiving life-threatening injuries. The doctors fear for his eyesight. It’s possible that even worse things will happen in the last days of the campaign. It’s also possible that some second- or third-rank AfD people will misbehave and cause a scandal. NDR (North German Broadcasting Company) has just had the pleasure of reporting on the chat group records of Holger Arppe. The vice-head of the AfD in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania spoke in a Facebook group about “Red-Green vermin” that belong “on the scaffold”; “And then let the guillotine drop.”
Arppe has meanwhile turned in his party card. The scandal has remained comparatively small. Possibly also because the back-bencher from Rostock blasted away Tourette’s-Syndrome-like in every possible direction. Even the AfD party leadership was not spared.
It is an open question how many votes these verbal missteps have cost. At the moment, polls show the AfD between 8 and 11%, perhaps even as the third-strongest party ahead of the Greens, Die Linke and the FDP. Garland and Weidel declared in an interview that they would regard anything in double digits a good result. If it comes to that, then Germany’s mainstream journalists will have to pop the champagne corks. After all, their favorite villains would have arrived in strength in the Bundestag, and will energetically work to supply further headlines.