Jun 182022
 

Earlier this year, Jörg Meuthen resigned from his post as co-leader of the AfD and, like two of his predecessors, also left the party. Meuthen, an academic economist, had become a co-leader in 2015 following Lucke’s ouster and had been billed as a representative of the AfD’s ‘moderate’, economically liberal and fiscally conservative faction. Like Petry (Petry does a Lucke, or: The AfD splits again (whimper edition), he had the tacit support of the party’s radicals lead by Höcke. Meuthen subsequently attended meetings of the radicals and was quite friendly with them. Only when parts of the party came under surveillance did he try (largely in vain) to kick (some of) them out of the party.

Meuthen’s departure left Chrupalla, the remaining co-leader, in charge. As far as I know, he has never been a member of the infamous ‘wing’ group, but he certainly has the support of many radicals and Easterners (there is a certain overlap). His leadership can best be described as unremarkable. Over the last months, Chrupalla has come under some pressure, mostly from the remaining ‘moderates’ who blame him for the party’s dwindling electoral support. While I think that there are structural reasons for this decline, he is most certainly not an electoral asset.

No Putsch in the #AfD 1
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Before the party conference, Chrupalla came under even more pressure from both macro factions of the party. While one (little known) ‘moderate’ announced that he would run for the position vacated by Meuthen, another (even lesser known) challenged Chrupalla directly, though that always looked like a very long shot. Much more ominous was that Höcke suggested to reduce the number of leaders to one and also hinted that he could finally ‘join the national executive’. While a straight run for the leadership by Höcke was always unlikely, Chrupalla would have struggled to find sufficient support to secure a sole leadership post.

No Putsch in the #AfD 2
Bernd Höcke. Based on work by Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

In the end, not much happened. The party conference did change the constitution and introduced sole leadership as an option for the future, but at the same time, the delegates decided to elect two leaders this time round. Höcke pushed for both motions and so remains in his favourite role as the party’s eminence grise (or bête noire?). Chrupalla was re-elected – with a lousy 53 per cent of the vote. He is joined by Alice Weidel, who already co-leads the parliamentary party with him.

While this might look like a consolidation of power, it is nothing of this sort. Höcke will remain both influential and unaccountable. He may or may not reach for the sole leadership in a couple of years. Weidel got 67 per cent, hardly a ringing endorsement. Both she and Chrupalla are moderately unpopular within their party – people without qualities, apart from being halfway acceptable to the various factions. They are weak leaders, not by accident but by design. Alongside its dual leadership structure (an organisational feature otherwise only found in Germany’s leftist parties), the AfD retains its commitment to high levels of intra-party democracy anarchy.

May 162022
 
Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD is not exactly in free fall, but the party is not doing well. In January, their former co-leader Meuthen threw in the towel. Meuthen had been the most prominent of the self-styled moderates and had aimed to improve the party’s optics by pushing back against the most visible right-wing extremist tendencies within the AfD.

In March, the party scraped past the threshold in the Saarland regional election. Just before the election, two of their three MPs tried to kick the the third one out of the party. Two of the three party memberships involved are currently pending while the national party tries to sort out the mess.

In last week’s state election in Schleswig-Holstein, the AfD remained below the threshold. It was the first time in any election they have contested since 2013. Yesterday, they narrowly escaped the same fate in NRW, winning just 5.4% of the list vote.

These latest results did not come out of the blue. Nationally, support for the party has been more or less static since about 2019. Subnationally, the East-West gap is well-documented. But there is also a North-South gradient that I do not understand very well: previous results in northern states have already been been kind of meh, but now the party has lost the momentum that carried it through the second half of the 2010s. The allegedly unstoppable rise-and-rise may well be beyond its peak.

Another bun-fight in the AfD 3
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Against this backdrop and given his very complacent attitude, it is hardly surprising that Tino Chrupalla, the remaining co-leader, has come under fire today. Chrupalla rose to power in 2019 with the not-so-tacit support of the most radical forces within the party. He also represents (and there is some overlap) the particularly successful eastern chapters of the AfD. If one should describe his stewardship of the party with a single word, it would have to be ‘hapless’.

And this is what some members of the national executive did today, though they did it in more words. For them, Chrupalla represents ‘the end of the AfD’s success story’ and must not be allowed to stand again as party leader.

Chrupalla’s counter attack was Michael-Gove-level bizarre: he likened his critics to campers complaining about humidity whilst peeing inside the tent. Mixed metaphors, anyone?

As of tonight, no other members of the leadership have rushed to Chrupalla’s defence. Again, this is not surprising. Backstabbing and a certain level of anarchy are the norm in the AfD, and Chrupalla has always been an odd compromise candidate, some sort of placeholder, not a leader per se.

Nonetheless, Chrupalla says he wants to fight for his job at the party conference next month. There are also rumours that the Meuthen’s bête noire, Björn Höcke, could run for a seat on the executive or even for the leadership, which could split the party and/or confine them to the East. All or nothing of this might come to pass. The one thing I’m sure of is that the infighting will go on.