Kevin Kühnert – the man who suddenly starts to falter

Kevin Kühnert – the man who suddenly starts to falter
Kevin Kühnert – the man who suddenly starts to falter

The SPD is feeling very frustrated after the EU elections. Secretary General Kevin Kühnert is considered one of the main culprits for the defeat. Rightly so?

Kevin Kühnert is clearly showing the strain, he looks worn out and could certainly use a few days off. But it’s no use. In a Leipzig backyard, the SPD general secretary is going wild again.

“That’s not enough!” he calls out to his comrades, volunteers and onlookers at the local district association’s garden party. The SPD in Saxony only has around 4,000 members, says Kühnert. Then he reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulls out an SPD membership application. “If anyone feels the need during the course of the evening…”

Every vote, every effort counts: This was the message that the Secretary General used before the European elections everywhere, whether in Leipzig or elsewhere. Election campaigning and mobilization – Kühnert is good at that.


A few days after its appearance in Leipzig, the SPD suffered a historic defeat, which was also blamed on the general secretary. Only 13.9 percent voted for the party in the EU elections. A disaster.

The Chancellor, who had been advertised with big posters, didn’t work, and his peace campaign fizzled out. More than two million Social Democratic voters switched to the non-voter camp, and hundreds of thousands more went to the populists on the left and right. The comrades are shocked and at a loss. The Chancellor must now finally go on the offensive, say the Chancellor’s party, but the General Secretary is also coming under massive pressure.

Kühnert is responsible for the failed campaign and in the heat of the moment he made some unpleasant mistakes. There is talk of isolated calls for his resignation, albeit behind closed doors. Suddenly the Secretary General, whose career had run like clockwork up until now, is seen by many as the culprit for the debacle. What is going on?

Kevin Kühnert and the “contact shame”

The comrades had barely digested the results when the general secretary drew attention to himself with a controversial interpretation of the election defeat. Many felt that the traffic light policy did not represent them, said Kühnert in a television interview. With regard to the coalition partners, he added that there was something at play here “that I would almost call contact disgrace”.

Basically, the Greens and FDP are responsible for the poor performance of the Social Democrats, that’s how it was understood. A diversionary tactic, also for their own benefit?

Kühnert tried to correct the impression that was bound to arise. But the shock of the traffic light partners was too loud. SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil also distanced himself from the man who is actually considered his political buddy: It doesn’t help to point the finger at others. And he gave him a dig – at least indirectly. “There are some things in the election campaign that I didn’t like,” said Klingbeil. These now need to be addressed.

In fact, there were a few mishaps in the election campaign, including on social media. In the wake of the xenophobic Sylt slogans, the SPD published a post: “Germany for the Germans” was written on it in large letters, with “who defend our democracy” in much smaller letters underneath. Very unfortunate. The post disappeared, but the damage to the party’s image remained. Kühnert, according to the story in the party, personally approved the post. He is said to have expressed contrition about it in the executive committee shortly before the election. His team left an inquiry about this unanswered on Monday.

One day after the election, Kühnert admitted that he was responsible for the mistakes made during the election campaign, including the “technical issues.” However, he ruled out resigning, referring to the SPD party conference in December, where he was confirmed in office with 92.55 percent of the vote. Is the comrades’ trust in their general secretary still so strong? It is questionable. Is he the right person to manage a federal election campaign? This question is also being raised.

The fact that many eyes are now on Kühnert, sometimes with disappointment, is also due to the high expectations that were projected onto him. Clear rhetoric is one thing, organization is another – and in this job perhaps the far more important thing.

As head of the Juso, Kühnert did not shy away from conflict, he sharpened his opinions, denounced them – in doing so, he drove the grand coalition forward, not least the SPD. Fits the profile of a general secretary perfectly. Actually. But when he was elected to office in 2021, Kühnert had to tone down his rhetoric, suddenly change the course of the Chancellor’s Party defend – often hard political work. Kühnert, of all people, who had always played on the attack.

The Chairman’s Tips

In the EU election campaign, Kühnert’s first nationwide campaign, some things didn’t fit together, and there was a gap between perception and reality. For example: Ukraine policy. Put up posters saying “Secure peace” and allow the use of Western weapons against Russia? Difficult. Olaf Scholz’s decision definitely contradicted the peace sound in the final stretch of the election campaign. But Kühnert had to defend and explain it because the Chancellor didn’t do it.

And aren’t the SPD leaders also, or especially, responsible for the party’s profile and direction? The SPD leadership now wants to be more combative in areas where it is or was considered to have core competencies: rents, pensions, in short: justice issues. It is also an admission that there is a deficit here.

Kühnert wanted to be the “guardian and bearer” of the SPD’s program and a “communicator” to the public, as he said after his first election as general secretary. Now he has also become a lightning rod for his comrades, who channel their anger at him and use the opportunity to distract from their own responsibility.

“I want to win elections,” said co-party leader Klingbeil, referring to Scholz’s renewed candidacy for chancellor. And he couldn’t resist pointing out that as campaign manager in 2021, he had proven that the SPD could be ahead in federal elections. According to the motto: I did it.

And Kühnert, his successor as Secretary General?

Will have a lot to look after, carry, defend and communicate in the coming weeks. The budget negotiations are entering the hot phase, SPD leftists are already demanding a vote of members to show the Chancellor red lines. They definitely don’t want to risk another major setback in this super election year with an austerity budget.

But what if that happens? And the state elections in eastern Germany in the autumn also go wrong? In Saxony and Thuringia, the SPD could even be thrown out of the state parliaments. Kühnert will then be one of the first to have to interpret and explain the events.

Source: Stern

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