Markus Söder is in a hurry in his speech, under no circumstances does he want to leave the CSU party congress and the world in the dark for longer than absolutely necessary about how his feelings for Armin Laschet are going. “For all journalists to take notes,” he says immediately after greeting him briefly. “We want Armin Laschet as Chancellor instead of Olaf Scholz.” The applause from the delegates at the Nuremberg fair is as long and strong as it used to be at CSU party congresses when someone called for a burqa ban. That has to be it, the famous unity of the CSU, which in this case also expressly includes the sister party and in particular the common candidate for chancellor. The fact that the commitment to Armin Laschet is so urgent is also an indication that this party congress is in danger of slipping before it has even started.
According to the program, the meeting will open with almost 900 delegates on Friday at 3 p.m., party chairman Söder should have his big appearance around 4 p.m., after which he will have to face a new election. But something has to be so important that Söder wants to get rid of it beforehand. He’s already in a hurry. At 2 p.m., the CSU asks the media to make a statement that can confidently be classified in the genre of crisis management. Managing crises, Söder has been trusted by many people since Corona, but the crisis he is now devoting himself to comes from the CSU’s in-house manufacture.
At 1:58 p.m., the CSU boss’ limousine rolls up to the exhibition center. He gets out, climbs the stairs, into the forest of reporters. It will be a good, an important weekend, says Söder. It is now also about “a signal for Armin Laschet”. No longer about “questions of style,” says Söder. This is exactly what it is about: questions of style. And about the signal that CSU General Secretary Markus Blume set for Laschet the day before when he asked about the Union’s survey misery mirrors so commented: “Of course we would be better off with Markus Söder.”
Now the CSU in Nuremberg must first sweep away the broken pieces of porcelain that flower popped at the hapless Laschet’s feet with a single, but very powerful sentence. While the general secretary holds his hands clasped in front of his stomach like an altar boy, Söder sermons next to him in which he invokes the unity of the Union. Serious?
The CSU meets in Nuremberg in the darkest situation in its recent history
A reporter asks whether it is not Söder’s own fault that the polls are so bad, including those of the CSU? “Why?” Asks Söder. Not everyone in the reporter forest manages to suppress a laugh. Why? Because he keeps showing that the candidate Laschet is the wrong one? “I can’t see that,” says Söder.
To put it all into perspective: The CSU meets in Nuremberg in the darkest situation in its recent history. Nobody knows through which cracks in the Nuremberg fair there could be a lot of light. In the Bavarian trend by BR and Infratest Dimap, the most widely observed survey in the Free State, the CSU fell to 28 percent, eight percentage points less than in the survey in July. Söder defiantly proclaimed the trend reversal weekend. The CSU had high hopes for the signal that its first presence party congress since the beginning of the pandemic should emit. Eventually she imagines the energy she is able to generate in her gatherings. And now? The direction of the two-day event must rather prevent the delegates from reinforcing each other’s desperation.
Before Söder arrives in Nuremberg, CSU General Blume and his CDU colleague Paul Ziemiak have already issued a joint declaration of unity. And Blume said: “Our Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet will be warmly welcomed and get every tailwind.” He regrets that there has been irritation. His statements were related to Bavaria and the CSU. Oh well.
There are a lot of Laschet posters out there, asserts General Secretary Blume
Formally, as Blume assured at the opening of the party congress, the CSU had nothing to blame for supporting Laschet anyway: “We have more posters outside than before for Helmut Kohl or Angela Merkel.” In fact, the organizers have at least made sure that visitors to the Nuremberg exhibition halls can hardly take three steps without standing in front of a Laschet portrait. To be on the safe side, Söder then added it again in his speech. “I sincerely ask you,” he says to the delegates, “that we offer Armin Laschet a great reception tomorrow”. The CDU boss is due to speak in Nuremberg on Saturday morning.
The Laschet skepticism is of course widespread in the CSU, and yet there are not a few who would have expected more strong support for the unloved candidate from their boss over the summer. Söder’s eternal teasing, says an experienced CSU man, is “an expression of hurt vanity and thus unprofessional”. Before the party congress, Söder had on many occasions let it be known between the lines who was responsible for the looming election disaster – a warm hello to North Rhine-Westphalia.
Söder does not want to give himself up to this nakedness in Nuremberg, he really tries hard to prepare the stage for the worthy visit from Düsseldorf. He dispenses with the ironic allusions that otherwise seem to give him so diabolical joy, one thing is certain: “We are 100 percent behind our common candidate for chancellor.”
How tricky the situation is in the CSU can be seen a few hours before the party conference in the Munich district of Solln, in the Munich-South constituency. At the weekly market, next to the roast chicken cart, the CSU has placed its information stand, or more precisely: a beer table. In front of it stands a man with a broad cross and a felt jacket, his shirt embroidered with his initials: MK for Michael Kuffer, 49, local direct candidate for the CSU. He is one of those who must tremble for their mandate. All CSU direct candidates in Munich must tremble. But especially now, with these polls.
“He’s just not the most extroverted campaigner,” says the CSU man
On the beer table, neatly draped: CSU bags, bags with gummy bears, Kuffer smiles his campaign smile from the brochures, and Söder, too, clearly. And Laschet, the candidate for chancellor? He can only interpret what he gets from party headquarters, says Kuffer. If he had received Laschet flyers, he would have laid out Laschet flyers. “I wouldn’t be ashamed of the Laschet now.”
Don’t be ashamed, couldn’t it be a little friendlier? Don’t get it wrong, says Michael Kuffer. He is convinced that Armin Laschet would be a good chancellor. “But he’s not the most extroverted campaigner.” How many Laschet posters are there in Munich? “Not many,” says Kuffer. The CDU boss is “not the strongest asset” in the election campaign. For Kuffer, CSU General Secretary Blume only told the truth. On the other hand, he thinks, “it is of course the case that people will certainly not vote for the Laschet if they have the feeling that we are not even behind our own candidate”.
In any case, Blume’s sentence ensured that when Laschet appeared on Saturday, cameramen, photographers and reporters would carefully observe and interpret the clapping behavior and facial expressions of each individual delegate. If Söder should move an eyebrow himself, that will also be registered.
“We don’t want to slide to the left,” says Söder
But first it’s Söder’s turn. His speech on Friday reflected the vague hopes that the CSU still had in this messed-up election campaign. Above all, the fear of red-red-green should mobilize the regular voters. “We don’t want a left slide in Germany,” Söder calls into the hall. That goes down well there, just like his rejection of gender: “Aunt and Uncle” will never become “Tonkel” with the CSU. As the new main opponent, he has identified the Chancellor’s favorite Scholz, whom he wants an investigative committee to face in the Cum-Ex affair. “Let’s fight,” says Söder at the end, “let’s show that we can still do it.”
It is this vigorous Söder who is undisputed in the CSU, although he has expected a lot from his party. Some members do not like his strict corona policy, and many consider his green course too drastic – for an affront to the former core clientele, the farmers. Söder also addresses these concerns: “The only real farmers’ party in Germany is and will remain the CSU.”
Late on Friday afternoon, the delegates, who rewarded Söder’s speech with minutes of applause, went to the vote. Söder was confirmed as party leader with 600 of 685 valid votes. That is 87.6 percent, a little less than in his last election in October 2019, when it was 91.3 percent. Söder takes a deep breath, one can assume that he was hoping for something more. Then he says: Such a result for the CSU in the federal election, he would accept it with a kiss on the hand.