After a television duel with CDU politicians: AfD leaders refrain from commenting on Höcke, and rightly so

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AfD man Björn Höcke and CDU politician Mario Voigt exchanged blows on “Welt TV”. The duel caused a stir in politics and the media. The reactions of the AfD leaders are particularly interesting.

These were sausages, literally. On Thursday evening, Björn Höcke, head of the AfD parliamentary group in the Thuringia regional parliament, and Mario Voigt, the CDU's main candidate for the upcoming regional elections, exchanged blows on “Welt TV”. The focus was on issues such as migration, skills shortages and Europe.

When Höcke wanted to describe the effects of the new law on the supply chain, he said: “That means that a butcher in Eisenach who wants to deliver his chopped rolls, his Mettbrötchen to Opel…” Voigt intervened: “In Thuringia that is called mince”. !”

The scene seems absurd, subtle, unimportant. And yet it symbolically shows the strategy that the CDU man used against Höcke.

“Voigt's goal was to present himself as Höcke's main opponent,” says Markus Linden, professor of political science at the University of Trier, in an interview with FOCUS online. The CDU man tried, among other things, with Thuringian patriotism.

Opinions differ as to how well the discussion with Höcke went. Some found the CDU man intelligent, objective and, above all, superior in the second part of the duel.

Linden found Voigt “not very confident in many places”

Linden is one of the others. He called Voigt's performance “largely lacking in trust” and criticized the CDU politician's “failure to present central documents to Höcke, such as the statement by East German AfD officials on the term 'remigration'.”

The political scientist also believes that Voigt followed Höcke's “self-trivialization strategy of the radical right” instead of taking decisive measures to counter it.

Voigt himself is satisfied with his performance. “The great support I received afterwards from people who have nothing to do with the Union shows me that it was right to reveal the differences,” he said in the RTL/ntv program Frühstart.

The federal CDU supports Voigt

The federal CDU supports it. In a corresponding post on X (formerly Twitter), the party said late Thursday night: “This TV duel was important. “Mario Voigt has shown what it is all about: a sensible political new beginning for Thuringia or the chaos and division caused by the supposed alternative.”

Some CDU members also congratulated Voigt. For example, North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst told Welt newspaper that others should follow the example of his party colleagues.

“The fight against right-wing extremism must be fought everywhere. On the street, in the personal environment and also in the political sphere.” Voigt not only provided an important service to his home state of Thuringia, but also to democracy.

AfD publishes Mett survey

On Höcke's side the situation was less euphoric. Page X of the Thuringia regional association AfD is full of contributions to the television duel. There is even an almost hour-long video that analyzes the exchange of blows.

He federal AfD However, on the social network it was not clearly positioned in favor of the politician, although there are publications about the television duel.

However, they deal almost exclusively with the meat debate. Anyone who looks at the

Five days ago, AfD president Tino Chrupalla congratulated former chancellor Gerhard Schröder on his 80th birthday. However, he has not yet commented on his party colleague Höcke's television duel there, just as he has not commented on Instagram or TikTok.

“AfD likes to keep silent about Höcke”

Different co-director Alice Weidel. She explained in X: “Substantive debates, competition of ideas: this is how democracy works. Not with exclusion and media boycott.” But only on Friday afternoon, about 15 hours after her party colleague's appearance.

“The AfD leadership likes to keep silent about Höcke because they want to downplay his key role in the AfD. The AfD first lets its followers show themselves on social media,” says expert Linden.

“We are also expecting Voigt to be praised in conservative circles who are calling for a move away from Merkel's policies. This delaying tactic could already be observed after the Potsdam meeting was discovered.”

The political scientist explains that the AfD and its allies are “adaptive and patient.” Finally, it is clear that the media attention generated by the television duel is contributing to the AfD's normalization strategy. “The goal is to demonize Höcke, and others are following suit.”

“Höcke leads the party indirectly, it has been like that for years”

Höcke himself takes advantage of the big stage and tries to gain sovereignty in the interpretation. Shortly after the television duel, he published an eleven-part fact check with several appendices about X.

In it he gains support for his positions and defends his own statements, also on migration and freedom of expression. The AfD man hides that he made mistakes in the “Welt-TV” talk, as did his opponent.

One thing is clear: Although the party leadership made no or hesitant comments on the appearance of the Thuringian politician, according to Linden, Höcke is the central figure of the AfD. “He runs the party indirectly and strategically by establishing its narrative and constantly expanding what can be said. This has been the case for many years,” he says. The AfD politician is very controversial.

Höcke is officially considered a far-right and a trial against him will begin next week at the Halle district court. Starting April 18, the AfD parliamentary group in Thuringia and the state leader will have to answer in two cases for using the license plates of a former National Socialist organization.

Does the appearance change anything?

Höcke is said to have used the banned NSDAP Sturmabteilung (SA) slogan “Everything for Germany!” last year at an AfD event in Gera and in 2021 during a speech in Merseburg (Saalekreis), Anhalt.

Political scientist Marcel Lewandowsky, who has just published a book on populism, also believes that Höcke is one of the most powerful actors within the AfD.

“He has created a large network in the party, which has a great influence on personnel decisions and candidacies,” he tells FOCUS online.

The duel was highly debated

Some observers celebrate the televised duel on “Welt TV” as a sign of real democracy. Others view the argument with concern. There had been heated discussions weeks before.

The question has long been raised whether the appearance on “Welt TV” would elevate Höcke to the role of a serious political opponent and offer him a platform for hate and populist slogans. There were also fears that the dispute would contribute to the “integration” of the AfD.

And not without reason: “If you're on stage with Höcke, it's hard to argue why you shouldn't also talk to Weidel or Chrupalla,” says Lewandowsky.

with dpa