The rise of Germany’s new far right party AfD has been nothing but meteoric. Founded only months before the 2013 General Election, the party came tantalisingly close to the electoral threshold, delivering the strongest performance of any new party since the 1950s. Eight months later, they made it easily into the European parliament (outperforming the Liberals (FDP)), and this summer, they won representation in three East German state parliaments, further startling the establishment.
The biggest problem for any far-right party in Germany is respectability: Any (open) display of extremist language or symbols, any link to the Nazi past will make a party unelectable for the vast majority of the population and may even lead to prosecution under Germany’s anti-Nazi laws.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, the NPD managed to retain a degree of decorum for some years before jumping the shark in the 1970s. Similarly, the Republicans started out as a CSU breakaway but quickly morphed into yet another extremist group in the eyes of the public. Later attempts of the new leadership to return to a more moderate position came too late to remedy the situation. More interesting was Judge Schill’s attempt to create a modern right-wing populist party in the early 2000s, but they never did well outside Hamburg and quickly collapsed due to Schill’s erratic behaviour.
Whether this is actually true remains to be seen. Either way, both events in isolation will not hurt the party, which is doing very well in the polls. But they will help to strengthen the cordon sanitaire that Merkel has created between her own Christian Democrats and the AfD, and resonate with the extremism frame that the left is deploying against them.