Markus Söder has a good chance of becoming the Chancellor of the Union. He exposes the weakness of the candidates for the CDU presidency. Now the party is struggling to support him.

There are two sentences that show how torn the CDU is today. A phrase comes from Susanne Eisenmann, party official from Baden-Württemberg. When asked about the next candidate for Chancellor of the Union, she said, “Markus Söder would be an option that I would welcome.”

The other sentence comes from Herbert Reul, the CDU Minister of the Interior of North Rhine-Westphalia. Reul says of Söder, “Hot air and a staging policy do not promote the CDU.” It was “inexplicable” to him how people got the idea that Söder was a good candidate for the chancellor. A kind of political slap in the face of Düsseldorf for all Söder fans.

Photo series with 13 photos

Eisenmann and Reul’s diametrical positions represent a trench running through the CDU. The reason for the split is a number: 64 percent. This is the percentage of Germans that CSU leader Söder would like to see as the Union’s next candidate for chancellor. The candidates for the CDU party presidency are far behind Söder: Friedrich Merz with 31 percent, Armin Laschet with only 19 percent. Söder’s great popularity shows how much the sister party CDU lacks leadership staff with stature.

How to deal with the increasingly powerful man from Munich?

Söder has not yet said whether he really wants to become chancellor. But because the candidates for the CDU presidency are suddenly so unpopular compared to him, the Christian Democrats are now under pressure: how should they deal with the increasingly powerful man from Munich? Opinions differ widely, the party sends in an uncertain future.

Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder only became popular in the corona pandemic, but Söder has long honed his reputation in the CDU: the beginning of his emergence is November 23, 2019, the CDU party conference in Leipzig. Söder is announced with a “greeting”, his speech lasts over half an hour. He uses different formulations he recently tried in the Chillreport interview. One is, “The AfD is the new NPD.” He explains about the Greens: “They have more morals than we do, which is double standards.” And he just says to the coalition partner, “The SPD is … there.” Söder mocks, criticizes, teases.

Some mumble that they are candidates for chancellor, others think it is a joke

What he says fits in perfectly with his audience, the 1,001 CDU delegates. The speech is characterized by a conservative background noise, but far from indulgent to the right. Somewhat hostile to the Greens, yes, but not praised too much for an attack – at that point it is already clear that the party could become the next coalition partner.

The CSU leader Söder of all people gives the best speech at the CDU party conference, the hall rages, there are standing ovations for minutes. November 23 is the day on which CDU MPs drop the name Markus Söder when asked about candidacy for chancellor. Others thought it was a bad joke despite a good speech.

Eight months later, the number of speculation about Chancellor Söder as a joke has fallen dramatically in the CDU: the Corona pandemic has shifted the balance of political power and the NRW Prime Minister and candidate for the CDU Presidency has surrendered for months, Armin Laschet and Söder a duel. The two heads of state moved further and further apart, while Laschet was unable to relax measures quickly enough, Söder slowed down and held restrictions in Bavaria the longest in Germany.

“The need for security is greater than hasty freedom”

Now it becomes clear: Laschet was not only experiencing skepticism with his relaxation, his supporters in the party also increasingly doubt him: “Laschet is happy acting and that is poison for his candidacy. I dare say if he can take it again doubt, “says a senior CDU politician who actually supported him.

Armin Laschet misread the mood in his own party: “The need for a man who stands up for security is greater in our party than the desire for hasty freedom,” continued the CDU man, who preferred to remain anonymous. The number of Söder supporters in the CDU has risen dramatically since the party conference in Leipzig.

Many now discover their sympathy for Söder in Armin Laschet’s camp. This is also because both are more similar in their political style than one would have believed in the Corona crisis. Söder made the CSU more liberal and feminine months ago, bringing him closer to Armin Laschet than Friedrich Merz. Söder is not as conservative as Merz, for Laschet supporters he would be the most promising compromise candidate: they shouldn’t have to bend too much ideologically and still have a popular top candidate.

The basic melody of the first hymns on Söder

One of Söder’s liberal sympathizers is Frank Heinrich, a powerful CDU federal politician from East Germany. He says: “Mr. Söder seems to have a good talent for Bavaria and crisis management. Many in our country see this and clearly associate it with the hope of using these skills across Germany.”

His colleague Christoph Ploß goes even further: “Markus Söder shows how the Union successfully makes modern bourgeois politics. For example, it combines climate protection policy with a reasonable economic policy that creates jobs in the field of renewable energy.” Ploß does not commit, he also praises Friedrich Merz, and yet it is clear: such sentences are the basic melody of the CDU’s first, cautious hymns to Söder. Few, like the CDU politician Eisenmann from Baden-Württemberg, are already clearly showing their preferences.

Söder meanwhile continues the discussion with Laschet. In early July, he said in a “Tagesspiegel” interview the phrase, “Only those who manage crises, who can do the duty, can shine in the freestyle.” Shortly before that, Laschet had to announce a closure of two counties in his state. A tip can hardly be clearer if you do not want to attack your political opponent head-on.

Merz’s distance resembles self-compulsion

Party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tries to control the unrest between Laschet and Söder. She agreed Chillreport“The process has been clearly agreed: Firstly, the CDU will decide who will be its new chairman. The CDU and CSU committees will then jointly decide, under the leadership of their two presidents, whether this will be the candidate for Chancellor of the Union.”

Even though it’s only vaguely clear so far: The actual move against Markus Söder has been gathered around Friedrich Merz in the CDU. Merz, his party’s former group leader, who now stands up for party presidency for the second time, is not a fan of indirect attacks. He recently told the “Augsburger Allgemeine”: “Historically, it has so far been the case that the CSU has offered the joint candidate for the Chancellor if the CDU was not satisfied with its own leadership.”

Then he confidently added, “That’s how it was in 1980, that’s how it was in 2002, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be in 2021.” Merz couldn’t let Söder take the lead in the chancellor’s candidacy, it would seem like itself.

Desire figure of all Söder opponents

Friedrich Merz is so highly regarded in the Union because, unlike Armin Laschet, he has barely been damaged in public perception by the Corona crisis. He does not have a government office – the ability to make mistakes was manageable.

And at the same time it is Merz’s problem: he can hardly be seen on the political scene anymore, he has to give small life signs again and again so that he is not forgotten. Since the start of the pandemic, Merz has been on the political sidelines and should not criticize the government too harshly not to be an infamous know-it-all.

But just in the demarcation of the CSU boss, Merz was now able to gain strength: the 63-year-old becomes the longing figure of all Söder opponents. Merz is considered to be stable, economically competent there, and many rely on him to deal with the crisis.

“Söder makes a headline policy”

Friedrich Merz’s team is now planning the first events for the fall: the rhetorician Merz is the strongest there and he can most easily hire a Bavarian Prime Minister, who has a number of stages for his own self-presentation, such as the appointment with the Chancellor in Herrenchiemsee recently . One thing is certain: Merz must catch up as soon as possible. If he wants a chance against Söder, he has to want to flee.

Merz supporters quickly see the rapid political blows of the CSU chief: “Söder pursues a headline policy because it can be changed so quickly: a few years ago he wanted to overtake the AfD on the right, then he turned around and then fell to Greens sharply, when he intended to save the bees in the Free State. I do not want a chancellor of arbitrariness, “one of the party leaders, a senior Merz supporter, is angry. His supporters hope that Merz will claim the candidacy as soon as possible. so they want to slow down Söder early.

But Friedrich Merz does not want to commit himself so clearly yet. He says Chillreport: “I assume that in December we will elect the new party leader of the CDU and that the leaders of the CDU and CSU will speak to each other and make a joint proposal.”

Like Gulliver and the Lilliputters

And because Laschet, Merz or Söder have not clearly stated that they are chancellors, the tension in the CDU remains high and everyone looks at Söder. For some the savior of the Union, for others a CSU man, for whom Munich is not enough. Both sides are examining each of his words, each formulation in answer to the question: Does that perhaps mean the right to run for chancellor?

When Söder recently announced that he “could well imagine traveling north to the coast for the summer holidays,” the CDU was immediately hectic. The Bavarian patriot Söder goes on vacation – not in the east or west, no, only in the north! That must be a hidden announcement, an indication of the chancellor’s candidacy for Berlin!

The fact that even such statements cause a huge echo ensures that Söder does not have to initiate aggressive attacks. His small, well-tempered progress can make him too big. At such times, Söder looks like Gulliver, and the CDU officials look like little Liliputans waiting for the giant’s next hand movement.

Impatience grows in the CDU

Nevertheless, the question remains whether Söder really wants to become a candidate for the chancellor. And if he can. He would need a CDU chief to elect him as chancellor. Jens Spahn would be conceivable for this, but he is still connected in duo with Armin Laschet. Norbert Röttgen would likely abandon Söder’s candidacy as chancellor. However, the choice of Röttgen is currently excluded.

One possibility would be if Söder succeeded in asserting himself for the CDU party congress in a joint meeting of the CDU and CSU leaders. Then it would be irrelevant to him who would become party leader in December because he could anticipate the decision.

But at this point Söder is still hinting and with every little push that doesn’t bring clarity, the CDU is getting impatient. Blowing your cheeks first and then not even whistling softly is not a sensible strategy, some in the group of the Union whisper. And several influential CDU politicians are still extremely skeptical about him.

One of them is the deputy leader of the Bundestag, Gitta Connemann. She agrees Chillreport, it does not matter who wins the “short-term race” in the Corona measures. On the contrary, the following applies: “A candidate for chancellor must prove himself in the marathon. And this includes in particular economic competence when it comes to corona consequences.” Does Söder have this competence? Connemann just says, “Look at this.”

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