So what follows from the so-called leaflet affair, which got Markus Söder into trouble, Friedrich Merz (literally) into a sweat and Hubert Aiwanger into conversation? The past few days have provided some clues. If you follow the chain of evidence, the CSU still has turbulent weeks ahead.

First there are the numbers. Söder downplays them as “snapshots,” as a “fever curve” after a heated debate. Aiwanger just says: “Thank you Bayern!” Four weeks before the state elections, the CSU fell in the BR “Bayerntrend” from Wednesday, reaching 36 percent. The Free Voters increased to 17 percent. This solidifies an impression that had already emerged in previous surveys: one person’s low is another’s high, Söder loses and Aiwanger benefits in the leaflet affair.

Söder made a bet that Aiwanger won. In the case, the Prime Minister had taken on the role of the conscientious father of the country, who only stuck with Aiwanger after much consideration – despite an anti-Semitic pamphlet from his school days, despite his poor distancing and despite a lack of willingness to provide a list of questions with reliable answers. Söder’s calculation of gaining a sovereignty bonus with his course did not work, but Aiwanger’s did. He styled himself as a victim of a campaign and was thus able to mobilize people.

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This is problematic for the CSU for two reasons. First: The unspoken goal of achieving a result of 40 percent plus X is almost impossible to maintain. Söder is trying to curb expectations by pointing to new competition in the election campaign – the AfD has only been represented in the state parliament since the last election. Secondly: Despite the CSU’s own claim that there should be no space to the right, this is exactly what emerged. The AfD and Free Voters together achieved 30 percent of the polls. The Christian Socials have given up this space.

The demarcation to the far right is becoming more difficult and could cost the CSU votes in the center. Söder’s pardon was intended to prevent Aiwanger from becoming a martyr myth, which would come at the expense of the CSU. With his decision for the Free Voters leader, Söder may have prevented the greater evil. But he has also made himself vulnerable: Every time Söder puts up the rhetorical “firewall” against right-wing extremists, he is likely to be reminded of having left Aiwanger in office.

Söder has become dependent on Aiwanger. The commitment to the “Bavarian coalition” with the Free Voters should give him the freedom to rail against the traffic light policy in Berlin credibly and without consideration. He rejected an alliance with the Greens early and categorically, he demonstratively took no notice of the SPD, and he could not get involved with the FDP – they will probably miss their return to the state parliament. The only alternative, the AfD, is not for the CSU. By choosing the Free Voters, Söder also took away options. And it makes it easier for critical CSU supporters to break away and vote for the Free Voters. They know: They will get the alliance and Söder as Prime Minister even if they do not vote for the Christian Socialists.

This could help Aiwanger reach an (even) bigger stage. In the wake of the leaflet affair, he entered the popularity rankings of politicians for the first time. If he actually tries to enter federal politics, it will also threaten the Union: the Free Voters could steal votes from it, especially from the right. Could Söder hold the Union together as a possible CDU/CSU candidate for chancellor? Open. His popularity ratings – which he used in his first attempt on the K issue – have suffered in the wake of the case. North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst, who is also said to have ambitions for the chancellorship, has now pushed past him.

And so to Friedrich Merz, the CDU party leader. His reaction to the leaflet affair – and Söder’s handling of it – was remarkable and insightful. At a joint beer tent appearance at the Bavarian folk festival Gillamoos, he attested to Söder having “brilliantly solved” the “difficult task” (he did not mention Aiwanger by name). That sounded exaggerated, but it may have forestalled accusations that he had not supported his sister party in the matter. The blame for poor election results would therefore lie with Söder. He thanked Merz with malice and mockery: “Everything is wet here, Friedrich!” he shouted to the sweat-soaked CDU leader as he followed him to the lectern in the beer tent. Later he even offered Merz to always be welcome in Bavaria should he ever have “problems in the CDU”. The impression: Söder distracts from his own weakness by pointing to the weakness of others.

The mood test will take place on September 23rd. The board of directors will also be re-elected at the CSU party conference. The Christian Socialists will rally behind their party leader and top candidates, especially so shortly before the state elections. But how clear? Söder’s result from 2021 (87.6 percent) fell behind that from 2019 (91.3 percent). The state elections are two weeks later. If you believe the current figures, Söder could also expect a setback there.