So what happened when the CDU finally found that concrete abutment it had been seeking since 2017 at least?
Armin Laschet started off by trying to make like nothing had happened on the grounds that it was technically possible to form a conservative/green/liberal coalition, or perhaps even a grand coalition plus the FDP. As pointed out here, he had his reasons – the only way such a thing could happen would be if he was the chancellor, as any other plan would have to get rid of him first, and as long as there was any hope of going into government, he had to be kept around as the formal point of contact with the Greens and FDP. This had the consequence that it was in his interest to spin out the agony. He also tried to put off internal decisions, like the choice of a parliamentary leader, and publicly said he had a claim to govern.
This didn’t go down at all well (here’s an example, asking if Laschet wasn’t at least embarrassed) and a string of his enemies, notably Markus Söder, lined up to take a whack at him. Söder, free as ever of personal ambition, had it made known that he would be willing to serve as chancellor in a new coalition. He himself then had to walk this back and admit that the next chancellor would be Scholz. Meanwhile, Norbert Röttgen came out much more directly to whack both Laschet and Söder, refusing to say he thought Laschet should get it right there on Anne Will, and a succession of embarrassing leaks disrupted what chances there were of a coalition. These were widely seen as coming from Söder as Laschet was still in charge and standing to benefit.
The real driver of events, though, was the progress of the preliminary talks between the SPD, Greens, and FDP. The closer they came to agreement, the less point there was hanging around. First of all, Laschet offered to go but left the talks open. Then a succession of major CDU pols announced that they wouldn’t even serve in parliament in order to bring about a new party leadership. This took people like Annegret Krampff-Karrenbauer and Peter Altmeier off the table and hugely undermined the leadership, such as it was. Altmeier went as far as recommending a “portion Demut” – Demut is humility, so he was saying the party should eat humble pie.
Perhaps the most damning comment of all was from the departing CSU interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who said that as the party had lost 1.4m votes to the SPD, it had clearly failed to do anywhere near enough on jobs, pensions, and housing. This is interesting as Seehofer was the biggest voice for a swing to the right in either the CDU or CSU, going as far as to rename the ministry the Ministry for the Homeland, and going on an extraordinary adventure in trying to have his own Bavarian foreign policy with Sebastian Kurz and Viktor Orban, before becoming the last in the long line of CDU or CSU men who underestimated Angela Merkel. As well as disavowing everything he stood for and in effect saying that the problem with Merkel’s approach was that they didn’t do even more of it, he also stabbed Söder in the front by opining that he wasn’t any more popular.
Someone had to do the clean-up and it fell to the party general secretary, Paul Ziemiak, who pushed the idea of new elections for all the party’s top offices through a stormy committee. As well as the party leadership, Ziemiak’s job is up for grabs, as is the entirety of the presidium and the federal executive committee. Friedrich Merz will certainly try again, as will Röttgen and possibly Jens Spahn, but a frantic search is now on for new candidates who aren’t quite as…CDU-y, to be honest. The former speaker Rita Süssmuth is trying to find women who want to do it, suggesting various state-level prospects.
The big operational question was whether the new leadership would be chosen by a conference of party officials or by a direct vote of the membership, and it turns out they’re going with the members. It looks like some of the party leaders, notably Laschet, are hoping to present the membership with some sort of slate they could sign off rather than have a proper contest. The problem here is that the party obviously should ask its members, but if it does they might well choose Friedrich Merz or indeed Horst Seehofer before Merkel found him a plot in her Männerfriedhof if that was possible, because they’re that kind of people, and the election result made very clear that nobody wants that.
This really excellent piece on their youth wing gets to the point – they may have over 100,000 young Christian Democrats, more than the entire FDP membership, but the problem is that they are the kind of people you’d expect in the youth wing of a long-governing conservative party, dull careerists with a tendency to get into scandals out of cynicism or entitlement. Further, their ideas are shaped by the internal selectorate they’ve spent their lives so far trying to impress. They talk about being business-oriented and pro-market, but Christian Lindner says this with more confidence, and as Horst Seehofer says, if you just lost millions of votes to the SPD and the Greens it’s not obvious that sucking up to big business even more is going to cut it. Nor, really, does having to blow up a massive autobahn bridge that’s been in need of major maintenance since 2009 because it’s in urgent danger of collapsing onto the city waterworks, a main railway line, and the dogs’ home.
As well as candidates, of course, it could also do with ideas, as pointed out here.