Sigmar Gabriel came to talk about social justice, but the crowd in Halle, one of the most economically hard hit towns in eastern Germany, angrily confronted the country's foreign minister about 20 women who had allegedly been raped by immigrants.
Caught off guard, Mr. Gabriel tried valiantly to defend immigrants, saying "in Germany a rapist is brought to justice and if necessary imprisoned, no matter whether he is a foreigner or a German." But the mood of the crowd was angry, despite the country's record low unemployment, just like many voters in France, Britain and the United States.
In a nutshell, the incident illustrated why Germany's Social Democratic party is sinking in the polls five days before federal elections for a new parliament. Once the powerful party of the working class, the center-left SPD finds itself, much like the Democratic party in the United States last year, struggling to find a constituency in the midst of a populist revolt.
Mr. Gabriel, at least, has shown a knack for fighting back. Like America's Democrats, who chose Hillary Clinton as their candidate because they thought she would be more electable than a socialist like Bernie Sanders, many in the SPD now wonder if they made the wrong choice in anointing Martin Schulz as their chancellor candidate over Mr. Gabriel.
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The far right and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany has gained popularity at the SPD's expense and, if current opinon polls are to be believed, is on track to become Germany's third largest party. The fact is, as Josef Joffe, editor of the weekly Die Zeit pointed out, like the rest of Europe, the industrial workers who once formed the base for the SPD are no more than 20 percent of the population. The SPD's current standing in the polls is about the same – 22 percent.
"No socialist party has managed to harness a winning coalition among the new rising classes in the service and knowledge sectors," Mr. Joffe wrote in a recent editorial. "And they have no idea how to deal with the populist revolt."