But some have said that Merkel herself shares some of the blame for her party’s catastrophic outcome. In all of her years in power, she failed to prepare a successor. She tried once; but his attempt to position Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, now defense minister, turned out to be deeply divisive and resulted in Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation as party leader after barely a year.
Mr Laschet, who followed her as the party leader, also failed to bridge the divisions within the party between those who embraced the social changes Ms Merkel had overseen, parental leave policies and from same-sex marriage to welcoming over a million people. refugees in 2015 and 2016 – and those nostalgic for the conservatism of the old party.
But the days of uniting the two camps under one-party umbrella may be simply over, analysts said.
“Conservatism no longer has convincing answers – or at least not convincing enough to attract 40% of the electorate,” Münkler said.
This raises existential questions for Christian Democrats.
In several neighboring European countries, including France and Italy, traditional center-right parties have already become insignificant, struggling to find a message appealing to voters and torn by internal power struggles.
Most now expect Christian Democrats to end up outside government.
“They could be in the opposition for a while,” said Mr Münkler, the political scientist, “and then the question is, will they survive it? ”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.