In Germany's elections, candidates vie to be more Merkel

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All the major contenders in the German elections are trying to present themselves in the same style and stability of Angela Merkel – the men included.
The leading candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor has made a point of emphasizing just how much he is like her.

It's an odd parallel to draw, given that Olaf Scholz, the sitting finance minister and vice chancellor, hails from the center-left party that traditionally rivals that of Ms. Merkel's center-right one. But Mr. Scholz clearly spots a winning strategy.

He's been photographed with his hands held in the "Merkel rhombus" shape, positioned next to the words "He Can Do Chancellor," where the words were conjugated in female gender. And in a slickly produced video, Mr. Scholz watches footage of Ms. Merkel at a negotiating table, before he struts away confidently with his eyes locked onto the viewer's. The insinuation is clear: Vote for me if you want Merkel 2.0.

Chancellor Merkel, the longest-serving leader of a Western democracy, departs office of her own accord, scandal-free, with sky-high approval ratings at home and abroad. It's only natural that the leading candidates to replace her might seek to replicate her appeal. Yet what's problematic, say policy experts, is that in promising they'll continue her brand of stability, they're ignoring the pressing challenges facing Germany and the world: climate change, the country's staggeringly low levels of digitization, a growing inequality gap, and Europe's policy with respect to China and Russia. The political class seems to believe German voters crave continuity and stability. Will the elections bear that out?

"We're at a moment in time, at the cusp of fundamental societal change and we need radical answers," says Sophia Becker, political scientist and research fellow of the German Council on Foreign Relations. "Instead, candidates are somewhat very calmly discussing incremental technical solutions to small problems. It feels to me they're trying to cater to a sense of comfort to voters. Nobody is presenting big visions of change."

Too much change?

In April, the Greens shook up the…
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