Is it any different in Germany? In some ways, the chancellor has an easier path than does the American president. The formation of a government is based on a coalition majority within the parliament, which then elects the chancellor and in theory sustains the chancellor’s leadership throughout the four years of governing. Chancellor Merkel has managed to get elected twice in two different coalitions, a unique accomplishment. Yet neither situation spared her from serious clashes within the coalition she led or currently leads. At the moment, Merkel is confronted with significant tensions within her coalition over the euro crisis, specifically with one of her junior partners in the coalition – the CSU – making serious accusations about both her policies and those of the European Central Bank, as well as the Greek government. No less critical is her other coalition partner – the Free Democrats. Not unimportant in both cases is the weakening position the two small parties face with an eye on elections in the second half of 2013. The CSU will be facing state elections in Bavaria, while the FDP will be facing the national elections and its survival as a viable partner for the chancellor in a governing coalition – a chancellor who continues to enjoy high popularity ratings.
The battle over the euro crisis thus becomes immersed in the domestic political positioning of the parties in search of their own interests and designs on electoral advantage. The result can be another version of the gridlock affecting the political process in Washington.
The challenge for both chancellor and president is that of appealing over these political party feuds and fights for their own electoral success. On the one hand, the parties supply the organizing of the electorate and their votes. Indeed, political parties are actually enshrined in Germany’s Basic Law . On the other hand, they seek to exact their interests from their leaders after the elections. In neither the American system nor the German parliamentary system is there a way out of this dilemma. The ability of the chancellor or the president – or the challenger to the incumbent president – to determine the course of their parties is also a measure of the effectiveness of the elected leader. When cracks appear in either system, that effectiveness is limited and often a sign of imminent demise.
President Obama is looking out over a political horizon that reflects back a very fragmented party landscape. It is a landscape that may spell defeat for him in November if he is unable to consolidate his support among the competing groups within his own party, let alone the uncertain trends within the independent circle of voters. Romney faces the same challenge. Chancellor Merkel looks out on a stronger horizon of support, despite the weaknesses of her two coalition partners. Some of that has to do with the current internal disarray of the two parties challenging her next year, the Social Democrats and the Greens. Given that set of factors, Merkel is very likely to be re-elected as chancellor even if she reverts to a different coalition government given her personal popularity for now. Nevertheless, even then she would still be plagued with the same problems of political parties which George Washington so vehemently condemned over two centuries ago. Neither presidents nor chancellors can easily live with their parties. Yet, they cannot survive without them.