A few factual topics discussed. Neatly mixed up. Exaggerated in Thomas Gottschalk dimension. And in the end it proved that the most right-wing extremist among the extreme right is only too happy to slip into the role of the harmless, empathetic patriot. This is how the television duel between Thuringia’s CDU leader Mario Voigt and AfD top candidate Björn Höcke ran on “Welt TV”.

This text could end here. But that would not be appropriate given the seriousness of the situation. The AfD, a party classified as right-wing extremist by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is leading in all surveys for the state elections in Thuringia and Saxony. The centrist democratic parties are still looking for a strategy: What to do to prevent the far right from becoming ever stronger?

Is it really possible to find no ideas about how to deal with this party in 71 minutes of television duel? Difficult.

But before you get the impression that this is a normal TV review, a quick reminder: A Christian Democrat is dueling with a fascist on a Thursday evening at prime time. There’s nothing normal about that. That has never happened before.

He wanted to “draw Höcke into the light” and provide the AfD with content. That’s what Mario Voigt, 47, had planned for this evening. A conscious decision to become better known. In order to gain profile as a conservative state father in waiting. And to ensure that no one talks about the currently incumbent Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow from the Left.

At least Voigt succeeded in the latter with flying colors.

It started with Europe. With the question of whether and how Germany benefits economically from the EU. What Brexit brought for Great Britain. And so forth. There is no need to quote Höcke at this point. You also don’t have to wait for the fact check, which moderator Jan Philipp Burgard announced several times for Friday. Every attempt at a debate about a factual topic confirmed everyone who always knew better: Factual topics with Höcke? Forget it!

One would also like to suggest this to the television producers in the Republic. Because it wasn’t even particularly entertaining. It was deadly boring at times.

It usually went like this: Höcke threw out a few theses with alternative facts. The CDU is “a wealth-destroying party,” things like that. Voigt always tried to classify this accordingly. Unfortunately it just took too long. Höcke teased with relish. It went back and forth a bit. Once they landed on the extremely important technical question of whether to order a Mett roll or a minced roll from the butcher in Thuringia. Cheers meal!

Burgard and his co-host seemed to have briefly left the studio during these moments – until they reappeared at some point to push for the next topic.

“We are changing the voters’ image this evening,” said Voigt shortly before the end of the broadcast. The image of the AfD, mind you. It sounded like a reminder of oneself. Putting the AfD in content. That was the order. But by then it was already too late.

The CDU politician seemed quite tidy. He didn’t allow himself to be provoked, had his facts together and read a lot of Höcke in preparation. He even came up with a nice story for each topic. A narrative to support your own argument. So maybe you can counter nice greens. But a professional like Höcke always intervenes brutally when such a narrative needs to get to the point: “Typical Konrad Adenauer Foundation sound.”

This is standard repertoire for a full-time propagandist. Loosely knocked out, one hand in his pocket. Something like that sticks. Best material for your own social media channels.

The following sentences from Mario Voigt will not be remembered:

“I am Thuringian. This is my home. We are the country of poets and thinkers.”

“I want to become Prime Minister of Thuringia.”

“I want to become Prime Minister of all Thuringians.”

“The CDU aspires to become the strongest force. I want to do everything I can to achieve that.”

“I have humility and respect for the voter.”

“I want a strong CDU.”

One cannot accuse Voigt of speaking in phrases. Many politicians do that. You can’t blame him for being an average politician – in the best sense of the word. Many politicians are. But they haven’t presumed to want to challenge Björn Höcke in a TV duel.

“It’s easy to call him a fascist. I don’t have to do that, a court has already done that,” Voigt said at some point in passing. Every now and then a “Reich Chancellor Höcke” slips out of his mouth. And why not?

Voigt’s better moments are the ones he actually wanted to avoid. These are the ones that are about not letting Höcke get away with his hymn as a patriot with a big heart. But to convict him as a fascist. These are also the best moments of the moderators, who confidently and persistently work out the contradictions in Höcke’s communication.

Why did he repeatedly use the SA motto “Everything for Germany”? The AfD politician became more and more on the defensive as the program went on.

Unfortunately, Voigt missed the decisive punch here too. Höcke repeatedly addresses him as “colleague Voigt”. As if they were competitors in the democratic competition for the best concepts. They are opponents in the fight for the stability of democracy.

“I object to them calling me a colleague,” Voigt could have said. But he didn’t. It would have been a good opportunity to use this program even more offensively to do what the CDU can’t do often enough: firewall, firewall, firewall.

In the Union they still seem satisfied with the performance of their designated vice-chairman Voigt. It cannot be said that these 71 minutes were as dangerous to democracy as was feared on the left of the political center. But were they really helpful?

It would probably be better if, after the battle of interpretation that now follows this duel, one or two strategists in the Konrad Adenauer House remembered the most successful Adenauer election campaign: No experiments!

“Someone who is banned from entering the Buchenwald concentration camp is not allowed to become Thuringia’s Prime Minister,” was another better sentence from Voigt. After this evening there is only one thing to add: It is perhaps better not to discuss things on television with someone who is banned from entering the Buchenwald concentration camp.