The CDU’s abysmal showing in last week’s EU Parliamentary election marked the party’s worst result ever in a national election. And apparently, the the loss of the CDU/CSU’s position as the largest party in the bloc’s largest legislative body was the last straw for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reportedly regrets her decision to step aside as party leader last year – a decision she made to clear the way for her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK.
According to media reports, Merkel is so frustrated with AKK over a series of missteps by the new CDU party leader that the chancellor has decided to withdraw her political support, throwing her well-laid succession plans into disarray.
Merkel’s determination that AKK is not ‘up to the job’ of being chancellor comes as AKK and others within the CDU have pressured Merkel to step down early to give AKK a better shot at securing a full term in 2021.
Though her ability to influence the party is limited now that she has handed over control of the party’s machinery, Merkel can still throw a massive wrench in the works by deciding to spend no more political capital helping AKK, whose chances of winning the chancellorship are fading.
Merkel’s decision to withdraw support for her erstwhile protege is the latest sign that the longtime German leader is determined to stay on as Chancellor at least until her term ends in 2021, despite growing pressure from AKK and others within the party to step aside before the vote. The latest conflict between the two women erupted after AKK called an impromptu party conference next week to examine the CDU’s poor showing in the EU vote, a meeting that’ sure to produce some awkward encounters between Merkel and AKK.
And who knows? If the acrimony between the two female conservative leaders continues to intensify, Merkel may yet change her mind and decide to seek an unprecedented fifth term in office. She certainly has the popularity to make a credible go at it.
Even if she doesn’t actively campaign for AKK, Merkel has plenty of incentive to quit while she’s ahead. Not only was the CDU pummeled during the last two national elections, but AKK’s approval rating recently slipped three points to 36%, according to broadcaster ARD. That’s the lowest since she became CDU party leader, and almost 20 points behind Merkel. AKK’s standing has been hurt by a series of gaffes, including an off-color joke about transsexuals that alienated many moderates. Adding insult to injury, as the CDU’s popularity wanes, support for the progressive Greens has surged, with the party doubling its vote share to 20% last week compared with the 2014 EU Parliamentary elections.
If she presses ahead, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the chancellor draw comparisons to other infamous German authoritarians. Though conveniently, soon it will be time to distract from the possibility that Merkel will stay on as German emperor with speculation that Trump will ignore the results of the 2020 vote and refuse to give up the White House, or worse (for liberals), win in 2020 then decide to run for a third term.
But no matter what Merkel decides, for AKK, there might still be a way out.