Despite the resounding victory, Hitler could not exploit it yet. The moderate political powers decided to join forces. Out of fear for a new Nazi victory, the socialdemocratic SPD supported the government of the Catholic-conservative chancellor Heinrich Brüning. The fear of new elections and the risk of yet another Nazi victory was larger than the doubts the party had about the Brüning cabinett. For Hitler and his party, there was nothing left but relentless oppsition. They took it very literally. By disturbing the debates with senseless motions and interruptions they attempted to cripple the work of the Reichstag while out on the streets brawls and skirmishes were often organised. Hitler kept his distance from this street violence but only for tactical reasons. Internally, Hitler made it clear often enough that the choice of legality was just a tactical move and that: "whenever the situation permits" - that is after the seizure of power - "the constitutional state will be abolished." The Bavarian delegate Wilhelm Hoegner saw it correctly: "We do not believe that the savage wolves of yesterday will have changed into lambs today being tended to by peace loving shepherds."
In addition, the N.S.D.A.P. and Hitler himself were faced with some serious setbacks. The SA for instance was not at all satisfied with the role it had been allotted; they felt degraded financially and wanted more autonomy. Moreover they felt little enthousiasm for the parliamentary course Hitelr had chosen. Led by Walter Stennes, the SA leader in the eastern regions of Germany, a real revolt erupted whereby an attack on the SS was not shunned. Hitler was shocked by these events. Joseph Goebbels received full authority to cleanse the Berin branch of the party from ‘subversive‘ elements while Hermann Göring was authorised to redress order in the areas where Stennes had been ousted. Ernst Röhm, who had been sidetracked for a while, was appointed Chief of Staff of the SA. Under his direction, the SA was restructured into a rigidly organised paramilitary formation.
This episode shows that the N.S.D.A.P. was not rooted as strongly as was thought. For a part this is to be attributed to Hitler’s personality. From numerous statements by people who have known Hitler well, the same doubts emerge each time: the Nazi leader may have been an impressive figure but could he cope as a statesman? Gregor Strasser described Hitler as a man with a near prophetical gift to judge big political issues correctly but he thought it was more by instinct than by his capability to sort out ideas. Hitler still was, like in his Viennese years, hardly organised, aloof and a little unbalanced. He was hardly reachable for party officials, dealt with matters superficially or not at all and shunned away from difficult decisions. He regularly called off meetings at the last moment or the subjects disappeared under Hitler’s characteristic interminable monologues. In them he spoke extensively about subjects that were of interest to him and often not about the subjects that should have been discussed. On the one hand, the Nazi leader was a strong, dominant personality, on the other hand a very insecure and undetermined person. Nevertheless, he never turned back on a decision once it had been taken. This made Hitler unreliable and unpredictable. Hitler had little feeling with the day to day running of the Nazi movement which meanwhile numbered more than 800.000. Other people like Martin Bormann (Bio Bormann) or Joseph Goebbels played a far more important role in this.
In Hitler’s private life, not everything ran smoothly either. In 1929, his niece Angela (Geli) Raubal had moved in with him. What exactly the nature of their relation was, is difficult to ascertain but they undoubtedly had a very strong relationship. Even more than that, Hitler showed himself extremely jealous and possessive while 23 year old Geli hardly lacked for admirers. The more she attempted to free herself from his grip, the more pressure he put on her. On September 9th, 1931, Geli was found dead, shot with Hitler’s pistol. The exact circumstances have never been discovered - suicide is the most likely theory - but the impact on Hitler was massive. He slid into a deep depression; some feared he would step out of politics at all or even end his life. Strangely enough, this personal crisis did not last long: following a visit to Raubal’s grave, his depression had vanished suddenly. Shortly afterwards he met Eva Braun. She was to stay with him until his death in April 1945.
Despite these problems, the party grew incessantly and the Nazis could be ignored less and less. Hitler and Göring even received an audience with Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg in October 1931 although without any concrete results.
1932 became a decisive year. For Hitler, it was one long election campaign. Important to notice however, Hitler’s road to power was no unstoppable, triumphant march to victory but an all or nothing attempt that could easly have gone another way.
The dominant subject in the first months of 1932 was the coming presidential election. Negotiations between the N.S.D.A.P. and Chancellor Brüning in an attempt to grant Von Hindenburg an additional term without an election - by an amendment of the constitution - yielded nothing. That put Hitler in a difficult situation: he could hardly do anything else but run for president because his millions of followers would not take it at all if he did not answer this challenge. On the other hand, Hitler stood little chance against Von Hindenburg, the hero of the Battle of Tannenberg in World War One. A defeat however would stain the aureole of untouchability and infallibiity that had been built up so meticulously. Despite an election campaign never witnessed before, the inevitable happened: Von Hindenburg was re-elected with 53%, Hitler ended up with 37%. Yet the Nazis could not really be desillusioned. The third candidate, the Communist Ernst Thälmann received hardly 10% and over 13 million people had voted for Hitler. The Führer cult had certainly found its roots in large parts of Germany.
The elections for the Federal states that followed in the months afterwards, confirmed the results: the N.S.D.A.P. easily made the minimum requirement of 30%. Even a ban on the SA and the SS could not stop the growth. In the elections for the Reichstag in July 1932, the Nazi party grew again, even becoming the largest party with 230 seats (37.3%). The N.S.D.A.P. did not win a majority in the new Reichstag though. The Brüning cabinett had been replaced by a government headed by Franz von Papen. Hitler declared himself willing to ‘fertile co-operation’ with a rightist government led by Franz von Papen under the Reichspräsident but did make two demands: abolishing the Reichstag at the earliest moment possible and lifting of the ban on the SA. Both requests were granted. The latter triggered an almost immediate increase of political violence.
This did not appear to have a negative impact on the popularity of the N.S.D.A.P. though. In the elections for the Reichstag in July 1932, the party reached 37.3% and 230 seats. These impressive figures did draw a distorted picture however: the growth of the party had slowed down over the last months, despite the relentless attempts of Hitler and his followers. His third Deutschlandflug (Flight all over Germany) during which he visited over 50 cities in less than a month, did not result in the expected victory. The party had counted on being so strong after these elections that Von Hindenburg could no longer ignore Hitler but that was a disappointment. Joseph Goebbels voiced the desillusion in his diary: "We will never win absolute majority this way. So, we take another course. Now we must have power and eradicate Marxism. In whatever way. Something must be done. The period of opposition is over. Action now!"
Hitler entered into negotiations with Kurt von Schleicher, the strong man within the Reichswehr and important advisor to Von Hindenburg, hoping to form a government dominated by the Nazis. Von Hindenburg, who could hardly hide his distaste for the Nazi leader, did not wish to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. The existing Von Papen cabinett remained at the helm but with this, the problems for the Weimar Republic were of course far from over. Von Papen realised this too: he wanted to take drastic action by introducing a few emergency laws and, with Von Hindenburg’s permission, to dissolve the Reichstag without having new elections immediately.
The Nazis and the Communists united in a motion of distrust against the Von Papen cabinet. The Chancellor suffered a massive loss of face and could do nothing else but announce new elections. These took place on November 6th, 1932. For the Nazis, these elections resulted in total disaster: they lost more than 2 million votes. (-4.2% to 33.1%) and 34 seats (from 228 down to 196). Quite a lot of people had lost faith in Hitler. Moreover, the more bourgeois voters dumped him because of the violent conduct of the SA and Hitler’s use of plain anti-Semitic language which he had omitted in previous elections in his quest for respectability among bourgeois circles.
These election results made the formation of a government possibly even more complex. Hitler stuck to his intention not to join a government without demanding the function of chancellor. The parties supporting the government were still a minority so Von Papen neither enjoyed the support of the Reichstag nor from within his own government. President Von Hindenburg then shoved Kurt von Schleicher to the front as the new chancellor, a function Von Schleicher had long been aiming for. The role of the N.S.D.A.P. seemed over: membership dropped and there were people within the party, such as Gregor Strasser, who did not want to follow the course Hitler had set out any longer. Within the ranks of the SA patience also ran out. In the press, the Hitler movement was even being ridiculed as an historic episode: "All over the world, people talked about […] what was his name again, Adalbert Hitler? Later? Vanished without a trace!" That however was premature. Many were disappointed in Hitler because he obviously did not want to accept responsibility for a government. This did not mean however there was no fertile soil left for the Nazi ideas: the economic crisis, the fear of Communism and anti-Semitism had not disappeared from German society.