Whatever else happens, there’s going to be a federal election in September, and there will be a CDU/CSU joint candidate for the chancellorship. The question, of course, is who – the K-Frage. Germany had a preview of this with the CDU’s leadership election earlier this year, where the party of consensus, compromise, and continuity achieved the first two by compromising between the continuity-Merkel candidate, Norbert Röttgen, and the tax-cut conservative Friedrich Merz, by picking the compromise candidate’s compromise candidate, Armin Laschet, the Nordrhein-Westfalen minister president. The key contradiction, really, was between the way Merkel transformed the CDU electorate – Christian Odendahl’s thread points out that not only did she mobilise women, she made the party the leading choice among immigrants – and the degree to which the party remained the same. Perhaps the most telling point is that the three candidates for the CDU leadership were not just all men, all native-born, all West Germans, and all Roman Catholics, they hailed from a fairly small geographic slice of NRW. There was no-one from east of Dortmund, north of the Ruhr, or much south of Bonn. All three are lawyers. Laschet’s offer was a compromise between the Merkel legacy and this rather dated party apparatus.
As the virus bounce receded, the contradiction began to bite again, and the CDU/CSU’s polls collapsed, there’s been a sort of phony war as CSU leader Markus Söder has repeatedly refused to say if he’s a candidate while sure acting like one. Enter Ralph Brinkhaus, the CDU/CSU parliamentary leader, who has very brusquely demanded that Laschet and Söder make their minds up, setting a two-week deadline. Brinkhaus’ influence should not be underestimated. In 2018, it was his surprise election to the job that precipitated Merkel’s announcement that she wouldn’t be a candidate again – see this AFOE post, including a profile of him. Brinkhaus was supported in this by fifty members who signed a statement demanding that they be consulted, plus some important state-level CDU politicians.
In the meantime, new, terrible polling dropped, showing Laschet’s state CDU sinking fast, within 2 points of the Greens hitting the lead. It’s hard to overestimate the significance of the Greens taking the lead in NRW, the richest and most populous state and the home of all things coal-fired and stereotypically masculine. This is of course hugely sapping for Laschet. Federal-level polls look marginally better for the CDU than a week ago although this is probably just noise.
Events are now moving fast. Handelsblatt reports that Söder is finally off the fence. In his own words, apparently he couldn’t bring himself to hide from the responsibility. What a guy! Laschet and Söder are both now officially candidates, having announced this to the parliamentary group and therefore implicitly conceded that it’s likely to choose between them. So many MPs have now signed Brinkhaus’ statement that they likely make up a blocking minority in the case Laschet wants to ignore them and Söder and just go for it.
Everyone is now taking sides. The former Merz supporters are rallying to Söder and so is Röttgen (did we say they like compromises?), although apparently some people think Brinkhaus himself should run or threaten to run, perhaps just as a way of forcing Laschet and Söder to come to an arrangement. The CDU and CSU top leaders are meeting tomorrow – Söder says he doesn’t expect a decision but Laschet says he expects a “recommendation”. Either way the question is going to be answered.
That of course leaves the other K-frage – which of the Greens’ co-leaders, or perhaps someone else, gets to be the candidate, as there can only be one.