Volker Kauder's ousting proves that Angela Merkel's grip on her party is loosening. According to the German press, it's becoming clear that conservative lawmakers are increasingly ready to abandon the chancellor.
Volker Kauder was regarded as one of Merkel's closest allies as parliamentary group leader of the ruling CDU/CSU alliance in the Bundestag. Now the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rank and file has voted to let him go.
For many, Kauder's ousting as the conservative party's parliamentary group leader marks the beginning of the end for Angela Merkel's time as German chancellor.
How has the media digested Merkel's shock setback and the looming threat of an in-party rebellion?
'Lame duck syndrome'
The ousting of Kauder goes to show that Angela Merkel no longer has the same authority over the Christian Democratic Union as she did during her previous terms as chancellor, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
"Authority inevitably decreases when a leader approaches the end of their term in office," columnist Jasper von Altenbockum wrote. "In America, this phenomenon is known as 'lame duck' syndrome." Merkel's defeat kicks off debate over how long this lameness will linger on.
One less 'squire'
For 13 years, Merkel has pulled the party closer to the center-left, leaving too many voters, allies and the entire democratic culture behind, according to the Münchener Merkur. "Now her party, reeling from the legacy of her migration policy and the leadership's routine neglect of voter sentiment, refuses to go any further.
"Volker Kauder was Merkel's most trusted squire," writes Georg Anastasiadis. "His fall shows that the regent Merkel's power only rests on the shoulders of a handful of minions. However, their power is no longer rooted in the crucial foundation of democracy: the people."
Volker Kauder was seen as one of Angela Merkel's closest allies in an environment that has grown increasingy hostile for the chancellor
Kauder was a symbol of unwavering support
Ralph Brinkhaus' election as parliamentary group leader could set a dynamic into a motion that may prove hard to contain," writes Nico Fried for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Merkel must now ask herself whether it's time to put a confidence vote on her leadership before the party or even the Bundestag. "As of Tuesday, the chancellor can no longer assume she has the support of her own people," writes Fried. "That is not enough to govern properly."
Read more: Opinion: Keep your nerve, Germany!
Brinkhaus' success serves as a reckoning for the Grand Coalition, for Merkel and even for Seehofer, who also backed Kauder's re-election, according to Handelsblatt's Thomas Sigmund. "The tiresome debate over the dismissal of intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen has strained the patience of too many Union lawmakers," he writes. Their rebellion is a clear sign of Merkel's eroding power. "Kauder stood for little more than to secure the chancellor's majority."
Kauder fell, but Merkel and Seehofer were the targets
According to Norbert Wallet of the Stuttgarter Zeitung, Kauder was not the target of this protest vote. Merkel and her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, had called for his re-election: "The fact that a majority of lawmakers took a different decision makes one thing clear: Kauder was let go, but the punishment was directed at Merkel and Seehofer." Wallet warns that the chancellor no longer has the foothold she is used to.
Merkel had sought to give Kauder the chance to step down with dignity, but he completely missed the opportunity, Steven Geyer writes in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. By backing him despite this "Seehofer and Merkel will have to admit they missed this opportunity to save face." Tuesday's vote showed that lawmakers in the Union are panicking; first, over the fact that their constituents view the AfD as a breath of fresh air and, second, that the party seems unable to halt its own decline.