Brussels (Brussels Morning) Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chancellor-candidate Armin Laschet is still dealing with fallout from the “Laschet laughs” incident, when the Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia was caught on camera bursting into laughter in the course of a visit to flood-hit areas in his state, while observing Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steienmeier deliver a compassionate speech to stricken residents.
More than a week after the incident, talk of his apparent inappropriate behaviour is not dying down, and his personal popularity seems to have taken a severe hit following the video, which was broadcast on national television and subsequently went viral on German social media.
Speaking with the ZDF broadcaster, Laschet expressed regret over the incident, describing it as “stupid” and conceding that it shouldn’t have happened. “I am sorry, I can’t say much more”, he said.
An INSA poll published on Sunday in the country’s largest circulation tabloid, Bild, showed that 57% of Germans viewed Laschet’s behaviour during the floods as negative. More than 180 people were killed in a devastating series of floods that hit wide areas of Germany, with Laschet’s home state among the most affected.
The same INSA poll also showed that Laschet’s personal rating as a potential chancellor dropped by five percentage points compared with before the incident. Only 15% of those polled believed the CDU head would be ideal successor to departing Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has retired from the party leadership and is not seeking another term in September.
Laschet is currently polling very close to Greens’ chancellor-candidate, Annalena Baerbock, who is at 14%. Baerbock faced her own scandal and offered an apology on Sunday, having been recorded saying the “N-word” in an interview. She merely quoted it as inappropriate, retelling a story of a school pupil in her neighbourhood who was asked to complete a worksheet containing the word. However, the fact that she was recorded saying it means there is now a soundbite of her using a racial slur.
The gaffes by the centre-right candidate Laschet and the Greens’ candidate Baerbock are good news for Deputy Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ (SPD) choice for the country’s next chancellor. Presenting himself as a capable crisis manager, straddling the middle ground and promising continuity of policy after Merkel, Scholz’s personal popularity is at 21%, ahead of both other candidates. His party, however, remains stuck in third place, polling at about 16%, just behind the Greens with 18%, and far behind the CDU with around 28%.