With Peer Steinbrück, she will be facing an opponent who will need to present an alternative approach to Germany’s challenges and someone who can pick her defenses apart. Steinbrück may be capable of both tasks. That said, he will need to make sure that his own party goes along with him. Two earlier SPD Chancellors − Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder − saw the SPD fragment over their policy decisions. Steinbrück will need to figure out how to avoid that same party trap. He has already stated that he will not serve in another coalition with Merkel as Chancellor and that he wishes to govern with the Greens. Whether he would agree to govern in another coalition combination is open to speculation. The additional options would include a three way coalition with the Greens and the FDP. But that is a question to be answered a year from now.
Meanwhile, the Greens are having their own internal issues over leadership questions, which they need to answer soon if they are going to present themselves as a strong partner for the SPD − or for another coalition if need be. Getting back into power is always a strong catalyst for any party and the Greens are not immune to this. Moreover, the emergence of the new splinter group called The Pirates (Piratenpartei), now represented in three state parliaments, poses a danger to the Greens voting base if they are going to need full mobilization in order to attain sufficient momentum to form a coalition with the Social Democrats. One interesting aspect will be the two coalitions between the SPD and The Greens in North Rhein-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg. How effective they look in governing two big states might have an impact on the image of a Red-Green coalition come next September. In any case, Peer Steinbrück can add some new adrenalin to the campaign in 2013. He might do well to take a close look before and after the U.S. elections on November 6.
The struggle between Obama and Romney illustrates the challenge of defining a profile and a platform with which as many voters as possible can identify, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of too many policy specifics. The challenger always has to argue that his alternative is better than the current path. The incumbent has to defend a record. The voters want to see confidence and stability. Germans seem to find both in Merkel now and she needs to sustain that trend. Steinbrück can draw his own conclusions about the loser and the winner in Washington next month. But he − and the Chancellor − will face similar challenges a year from now.
In any case, it promises to be a battle worth watching.
Watch the AICGS At Issue Interview with Peer Steinbrück: