Instead, the AfD surprised everyone when it threw its support behind a little-known candidate of the center-right Free Democrats, who had only five representatives in a state house of 90.
He also had the backing of the local chapter of Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, giving him enough to win.
The move by the AfD amounted to a political ambush. But it also prompted thinly veiled accusations of collaboration.
“The means do not justify the ends and power does not trump decency,” wrote Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democratic former foreign minister. That was a lesson that “should have deeply and indelibly enshrined’’ in the memory of mainstream parties, he added.
Bodo Ramelow, the leftist governor, who got beaten in Wednesday’s vote, reacted swiftly by tweeting a quote from Hitler in 1930, the year his Nazi party gained its first foothold in Thuringia.
“We achieved the biggest success in Thuringia,” Hitler had boasted at the time. “There we are today really the decisive party. The parties in Thuringia that have governed so far, are unable to get a majority without our assistance.”
The events in Thuringia were all the more symbolic — and significant — because it is the fief of the AfD’s most notorious far-right leader, Björn Höcke. A history teacher turned far-right ideologue, Mr. Höcke uses language that is packed with echoes from the 1930s and has called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “memorial of shame.”
In the small western town of Frankenstein, a short-lived coalition was even agreed between a Christian Democrat and an AfD member who were husband and a wife.
But Thuringia took the dynamic from the local municipal level to the state level. Some fear it is only a question of time before it arrives on the federal level, where the AfD is the leading opposition party in the national parliament.
Even inside the conservative camp, some voices are urging the rethinking of the policy of the cordon sanitaire around the AfD.
Martin Patzelt, a vocal defender of Ms. Merkel’s 2015 refugee policy and member of her conservatives, is no friend of the AfD. But he said he understands why isolating the party riles its voters — and some conservative Christian Democrat voters, too.
“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend they’re not there,” Mr. Patzelt said in a recent interview before events unfolded in Thuringia. “The AfD is not going away. We need to learn how to deal with them in a mature way.”
The AfD, meanwhile, has enjoyed accusing mainstream parties of distorting democracy by ignoring the will of voters. For it, the week’s events served as a case in point.
“The AfD can’t be bypassed anymore,” Alice Weidel, leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group, said triumphantly.
This content was originally published here.