The true winner of Germany’s much anticipated chancellor’s debate last week wasn’t even present on stage at the event. Millions of voters tuned in to watch a decisive duel between the leaders of the country’s two largest parties, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats and Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats, but what they witnessed instead was a discussion dominated by the specter of a third, ascendant party that has recently burst onto the political scene: Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing organization led by breakaway members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc. According to the latest polls, this populist group has climbed to the number-three spot in the lead up to the general vote on September 24. Political analysts predict it has the potential to become much larger and much more disruptive in the years to come.
Americans would do well to take note of the conflict now unfolding between the AfD and the incumbent chancellor, even if Merkel is widely expected to win a record-tying fourth term. In general, liberals in the United States have been paying far less attention to the German election season compared with the widespread hand-wringing over the growth of populism in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France earlier this year. But in fact, it will be in stable, boring old Germany where the most dramatic challenge to open borders and multiculturalism comes.
The emergence of a viable alternative to the “establishment” conservative politics Merkel represents is so important because of the role played by her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in the shaping of post-Nazi Germany, where it has ruled for almost three quarters of the country’s history. The CDU was founded after World War II by men and women who vowed to protect the Christian character of the German nation and Europe as a whole, but it has always held an on-again, off-again relationship with white nationalists.
This has been true since even before the beginning. The CDU’s founders, most of whom hailed from the western regions of Germany where Christianity is most historically rooted, originally voted to support Nazism. Far from being a fluke, their alliance was a logical consequence of demographic fears. The man who would go on to become the party’s leader and first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was not alone in his belief that the northeastern part of his country — the heart of Prussia, with its capital in Berlin — was populated by a…