After TV duel with Biden: German politicians fear Trump’s return

After the first TV debate before the US presidential election, fears of Donald Trump’s return to the White House are growing in German politics. In view of the weak performance of incumbent Joe Biden, representatives of the Liberals and the Union called on the US Democrats on Friday to replace the 81-year-old with another presidential candidate. A government spokesman remained tight-lipped, but emphasized the good relationship between Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Biden.

“This night will not be forgotten,” CDU foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen told “Spiegel”. “The Democrats must now change course.” FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai called Biden’s appearance “shocking”. He told broadcaster Welt TV that he assumed that the US Democrats would now be considering the question: “Is this the right candidate? Yes or no?”

“The Democrats must react immediately and put a new candidate into the race,” demanded FDP European politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann in the “Rheinische Post”. “The fact that a man like Trump could become president again because the Democrats are not in a position to put up a strong candidate against him would be a historic tragedy that the whole world would feel.”

Biden made a weak impression in the TV debate against his Republican challenger Trump on Thursday (local time) and repeatedly stuttered and faltered. In a CNN poll, 67 percent of viewers saw former President Trump as the winner of the debate.

After the TV appearance, there were also skeptical voices from the federal government about Biden: He had “presented many facts unclearly and was sometimes difficult to understand linguistically,” said the transatlantic representative Michael Link (FDP). “Whether the Democrats will really go into the election in November with Joe Biden is something the Democrats will have to decide at their party convention in mid-August.” They must now consider who has the best chance of winning against former President Trump.

The federal government will not comment on the election campaign in the USA and will not interfere there, said deputy government spokesman Wolfgang Büchner. However, Chancellor Scholz has a great deal of respect for Biden and has “an excellent personal relationship” with him.

During his first term in office, the right-wing populist Trump imposed punitive tariffs on German and European products, thereby triggering a trade conflict with the EU. At the beginning of his term, he also repeatedly questioned the US’s commitment to assist its NATO partners and accused Germany in particular of investing far too little in defence at the expense of the US.

“Perhaps Europe will finally wake up after the first TV debate,” wrote the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Michael Roth (SPD), on Friday in the online service X. “Anxious hopes for Biden’s re-election will not help.” Europe must “finally dare more” and “take on more leadership in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.”

“Trump’s comments in the debate were worrying for Germany and Europe,” said the transatlantic representative Link to the “Tagesspiegel”. “His foreign policy comments are confused and irritating, for example when he claims that he would solve the war in Ukraine with Putin, without mentioning the Europeans, of course.” In terms of trade policy, he wants to make deals with individual European states and once again try to “play individual EU countries off against each other”. According to Link, the Europeans must now “consistently prepare for all scenarios”.