Saskia Esken is currently touring the northern Black Forest. On foot, by bike, by train. Campaign. The highlight of their summer tour is the meeting of the SPD party leadership in the 25.000-inhabitant town of Horb am Neckar next week. "We rarely have such high visitors here," says Freudenstadt SPD district chairwoman Viviana Weschenmoser happily. "It's fun to campaign for the SPD and Saskia."
SPD leader Saskia Esken grew up in the northern Black Forest, that is where her constituency is, where she was recently nominated as a candidate for the Bundestag with almost 85 percent. It is a real size in the region. Beyond that - not even in the SPD.
Neither Esken nor co-boss play in the election campaign Norbert Walter-Borjans a noticeable role. Just like recently in the parliamentary operation of Berlin. For the first time in its long history, the party has two chairmen - and they have never been so invisible. A top comrade says: “We call them the 'inner party chiefs'. Olaf does everything externally. "
Everything is currently revolving around Olaf Scholz: in the party, among the SPD cabinet members, in the election campaign. About the candidate for chancellor, the vice-chancellor, the federal finance minister. At press conferences Esken and Walter-Borjans say sentences like: "We have a candidate for Chancellor in the quiver who enjoys a high level of trust among the population."
But nobody seems to hear. If Esken Green-red-red names an option, which is not so unrealistic, but still an affront for some comrades, who just shrug their shoulders. No fuss, no debate. This has been going on for weeks.
“The two were faded out. The chairman has already realized this well, the chairman is still lacking knowledge, ”the group says tightly. A top comrade jokes angrily: “The chairman has been arrested in the Willy Brandt House.” And when the dialogue bus, the fire-red info mobile of the SPD parliamentary group, drives through the country, as is currently the case in the election campaign, comrades on site sometimes openly say: “But not with the chairman on board, please. ”Because there can only be one: Scholz.
Gone are the days when Esken in particular shaped the media debate about the SPD with their views.latent racism in the ranks of the security forces ”or a corona property levy for the particularly wealthy brought into play. Also Walter-Borjans, who canceled a decision on armed Bundeswehr drones in the winter Sparked debateis noticeably quiet.
One reason for this is election tactics; another that the duo was never accepted by many party groups. The third is fear.
In search of the bourgeois voters
"Not unusual" is the current line-up of the top management, says Alexander Schweitzer, member of the party executive and labor minister in Rhineland-Palatinate. “In election campaigns, the focus has to be on the candidate.” It would simply be “overwhelming” in the current “attention economy” if you put more people up front.
The two party leaders ensured "internal pacification", clarified the question of the candidate for chancellor and played a key role in the program. Your role is now to unite the party behind the program and the candidate.
From the Willy-Brandt-Haus it is said that Esken, Walter-Borjans and Scholz formed a "trio". Apart from that, the focus of all parties is on the top candidate, not just the SPD. “We use every opportunity to present Olaf Scholz.” If you look at the competence values that are assigned to him in the surveys, then Scholz is in a “very, very good position”.
Also the party researcher Jürgen Falter from the University of Mainz explains the strategy with the popularity ratings of Scholz, which are significantly higher than those of Walter-Borjans or Esken. But he sees another reason: “To put Olaf Scholz in the foreground has something to do with the intention to win over middle-class voters or voters from the middle,” he says. Whereby the two party chairmen, "who within the party stand for a far more left-wing course than Scholz, would only be a hindrance".
This is reminiscent of a development that shaped some of the state election campaigns that were successful for the SPD. When the Hamburg SPD started the election campaign in 2020, it did not plan any appearances by Esken and Walter-Borjans. One is an "independent regional association", said top candidate Peter Tschentscher back then. Even with the Rhineland-Palatinate SPD, the top comrades hardly appeared in the 2021 election campaign. On the one hand, this was due to the corona pandemic. “No tailwind” is to be expected from Berlin, it was said on the other hand.
Esken and Walter-Borjans were elected to the party leadership in December 2019 when the frustration in the SPD was enormous. About going under in the GroKo, having lost the last federal election with Martin Schulz so crashingly - and with a roar the chairwoman Andrea Nahles. “At that time they wanted to show the 'establishment' in the party and chose Saskia and Norbert. They would probably not make the race today, ”said a top comrade. Because the SPD is in a more precarious position today.
The fear is around in the party. Before marginalization. You can see the poor poll numbers, the loss of importance of social democracy in Europe, although the party has been doing everything right for a year. "The fact that French socialists had to sell their historic party building in Paris in 2017 is in the bones of many." The notion that the SPD will soon be one People's party without a people could be.
"Nobody twitches anymore" from the Chancellor candidate Scholz
“All of that has now, before this important one Federal Elections led to a discipline that I have never seen before in this party, ”reports another Social Democrat, who once held almost every important party office.
“Olaf is really not someone who wins hearts and pulls people away, and by no means everything he says is consensus. But everyone gathers behind him, nobody twitches anymore. ”And every week it gets“ prettier ”in the party. "Once you have reached 14 percent in the polls, you no longer afford wing fights."
The two chairmen themselves understood that there were no more power struggles, the sheer hardship would unite the party. That is why one can definitely speak of a cooperation - with Scholz as the triumphant. It is also true, however, that Esken and Walter-Borjans have fulfilled their role in the party to some extent.
Anyone who speaks today with comrades who elected the two to office will not encounter despair in view of the lower response from the two party leaders. But partly also on satisfaction. Some of what Esken and Walter-Borjans had called for is now the party's official line, they say: the commitment to investing billions, for example, or an ambitious one Climate protection program.
Left comrades also say that the mood today is different than in 2019. The need for security is very great among voters at the moment, says a well-connected member of the Jusos. And that satisfies Olaf Scholz much more than Saskia Esken or Norbert Walter-Borjans.