Archive for the ‘France: politics 2016-17’ Category

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

Saturday was Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s big Paris rally, yesterday was Benoît Hamon’s. The venue was the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in the 12th arrondissement along the Seine, formally called the AccorHotels Arena since last year, as the corporate branding of sports stadiums and arenas—and Anglicizing their names—has now come to France (how I hate that; yet another American import to be lamented). It was said last week that this was a make-or-break event for the Hamon campaign, that he absolutely had to fill the arena and have the event be seen as a success, or else. The big turnout at Mélenchon’s rally at the République only raised the stakes, as the two men are in a neck-and-neck contest to finish ahead of the other—and, for Hamon, to obtain a respectable 1st round score (in the mid to high teens). As the Bercy arena has a maximum capacity—of some 20,000, plus a few thousand outside watching on the big screen—at least there wouldn’t be a numbers game or dispute over that.

The rally, in short, was a spectacular success. First, the arena was packed and with several thousand outside. Second, the ambiance was survolté (enthusiastic, excited), in good part thanks to the large contingent of young people—mainly from the MJS—in the arena’s pit (where I was). Third, Hamon gave a great speech. He spoke for almost an hour-and-a-half and was very good throughout (to watch it, go here). Unlike Mélenchon the day before, he targeted his opponents on numerous occasions—Marine Le Pen, François Fillon, and (particularly) Emmanuel Macron, rarely Mélenchon—though without mentioning any by name (except Marine LP once). I suppose that’s normal for a candidate in his position—and particularly aiming at Macron, as a sizable number of center-left voters are undecided between the two. There was nothing mean or below-the-belt. On a host of issues—notably immigration—he hit the right buttons and had a number of great lines. E.g.

Je sais que l’histoire de France est un bloc, comme la Révolution. Mais je ne confonds pas la Révolution et la Restauration, les communards et les Versaillais, Barrès et Zola, les dreyfusards et les anti-dreyfusards, je ne confonds pas l’histoire de Fernand Braudel et celle de Charles Maurras…


And this

Comment aurions-nous construit la France sans les Polonais, les Italiens, les Portugais, les Marocains, les Sénégalais, etc?… Angela Merkel a parlé d’une voix d’or quand elle a dit ce qu’il fallait dire au nom même du projet européen pour les réfugiés…Vous pouvez être le prochain Thomas Pesquet, le prochain Omar Sy, la prochaine Najat Vallaud-Belkacem…

Najat V-B was indeed present in the V.I.P. area and took the mike during the warm-up, as did Christiane Taubira and others. But one noted the PS heavyweights who were not present, and whose names were not uttered once: Manuel Valls, Ségolène Royal, Stéphane Le Foll, Julien Dray… Hamon did take care at one point to positively mention François Hollande, Bernard Cazeneuve, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, which provoked applause.

There is so much that was good in Hamon’s speech. E.g. March 19th is the anniversary of two tragic events. One is the 2012 murder of the Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse by Mohammed Merah. Hamon marked the occasion by evoking their names and asking for a minute of silence in their memory, plus all the other victims of terrorism (soldiers in Montauban, Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher, November 13th). C’était fort. The other event is the formal end, in 1962, of the seven-and-a-half year Algerian war of independence, in which so many lives were lost, shattered, or upended. Hamon’s used that one to call for a new era of fraternity between the French and Algerian peoples. C’est bien.

Hamon is also the only candidate—probably excepting Macron—who will trash Trump and Putin in the same sentence—and with the audience (me included) booing at the mention of both names.

To see my photos with commentary, go to the album here (for the comments, click on the photo, then the info icon on the top right, and scroll with the arrow).

Two more things. During Hamon’s speech, my wife—who was watching it live on BFM—sent me a text message saying how impressed she was with what Hamon was saying, plus marveling that he was doing so without notes. I replied that he had a teleprompter. It was indeed the first time I’ve personally seen a teleprompter at a French political rally. Another American import. I doubt anyone noticed it or even knew what it was. No harm in that. It’s hard for even skilled orators to flawlessly pull off the 90-minute speech of their lives without something written in front of them. Most French politicos in such situations read written texts, which makes for boring, plodding speeches (e.g. Sarkozy, at his big April 2007 rally at Bercy—which I watched on the big screen outside—looked down at his text the entire time, almost never making eye contact with the audience; what a dud). Marine Le Pen, who delivers a good speech, was constantly looking at down at the lectern at her 2012 rally at the Zénith. On Saturday, Mélenchon, who’s a natural orator, had sheets of paper, which he glanced at occasionally while walking the stage and looking directly at the audience. The only French politicos I’ve seen who can speak for literally hours with no notes—who pace the stage with mike in hand—are Jean-Marie Le Pen and Philippe de Villiers. But they’re showmen, so thus a minority.

The second thing. I’ve announced to all and sundry over the past couple of months that I’ve decided to vote strategically for Emmanuel Macron in the 1st round, as there are two overriding imperatives in this election: (a) to avoid, if at all possible, a 2nd round face-off between Le Pen and Fillon, and (b) to avoid at all costs a Le Pen victory. As it is, objectively speaking, most unlikely that any Socialist candidate could make it to the 2nd round—and whose chances of victory, in that event, would be worryingly uncertain against Marine LP—that leaves Macron as the only candidate who can save France from both a discredited, increasingly reactionary Fillon and the nightmarish catastrophe of Marine LP in the Élysée. And I’m fine with Macron, who’s an interesting, worthy candidate. But after yesterday’s rally I’m rethinking my position. I don’t care about the Parti Socialiste or—with the exception of Najat V-B and maybe a couple of others—those in its V.I.P. section yesterday (see my photos), but, to repeat, I was very impressed with Benoît Hamon, and on form and substance equally. But of equal importance was the crowd, and particularly the younger generation—and which included my 23-year-old daughter and several of her friends. In France, these are my people. There are the usual disagreements on this or that issue but I relate to and identify with them. In America, they’re liberal/progressive Democratic Party voters. And Hamon is the best possible candidate the moderate French left could have fielded in this election. So if, on April 23rd, it looks fairly certain that Macron will proceed to the 2nd round to face Marine LP, I will cast my ballot for Hamon.

UPDATE: Arthur Goldhammer, in an article in The American Prospect dated March 20th, assesses the visions of the five leading presidential candidates, beginning with a critique of Hamon’s economic program.

2nd UPDATE: Art Goldhammer, writing on his blog, has an assessment of Monday night’s debate, with which I very largely agree.

3rd UPDATE: France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand offered an insightful analysis of Monday’s debate, “Premier débat, avec des alliances et des oppositions à géométrie variable!”

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon had his Paris rally today, exactly five years to the day after his big one of the 2012 campaign, which I attended and took pics of. Both serendipitously happened not only on a weekend but also on the anniversary of the birth of the 1871 Paris Commune, the French left’s most hallowed moment of history. The 2012 march set off from the Place de la Nation and ended at the Place de la Bastille, where JLM gave his speech. Today’s began at the Bastille and proceeded to the Place de la République, which is considerably larger than the Bastille, so can thus pack in more people. The turnout was impressive: larger than the 2012 march and considerably more so than François Fillon’s Trocadéro rally two weeks ago. The organizers announced 130,000; perhaps it was two-thirds of that, maybe more. It was certainly the biggest gathering of the ‘left of the left’ in a while: of JLM’s new movement La France Insoumise and the constituent parties of the Front de Gauche—the Communists and Ensemble the most important, along with JLM’s Parti de Gauche (now indistinguishable from FI)—which still seems to exist (JLM has pronounced the FDG defunct but the PCF says no, that it’s still alive and well). In American terms, these are Bernie Sanders supporters—on his left flank—though JLM is not the French Bernie; that distinction goes to Benoît Hamon; JLM is to Bernie’s left.

A few remarks on JLM’s speech, which went a full hour (if one wants to watch it, go here). First—and something we already know—he’s quite an orator, one of the best in the French political class, his speech replete with historical and literary references that one would never hear from a politician outre-Atlantique (and certainly not one who writes his/her own speeches, which, it goes without saying, JLM does). Second, a salutary detail of organization: JLM was not preceded by a series of politicos no one came to see and who could drone on and waste everyone’s time. There were short prerecorded videos projected on the big screens of FDG and other personalities speaking in favor of JLM—Pierre Laurent, Clémentine Autain, Danielle Simonnet, Eric Coquerel, Liêm Hoang-Ngoc—each thankfully lasting two or three minutes. The warm-up speakers were musicians and writers—none known to me—who sang leftist folk songs and read poetry. Nice. Third, JLM made not a single reference to any of his political opponents. There was an indirect one to Marine Le Pen and a couple of mentions of the Loi Macron (loud boos) but otherwise no personal attacks on anyone, which was admirable, though JLM clearly disdains everyone not in his political corner and does not envisage collaboration with the PS or anyone else outside the FI/FDG. The principal focus was on his populist vision for a direct democratic “6th Republic,” which is so half-baked and utterly unlikely to ever happen that, IMO, it’s not even worth debating. The constitution of the 5th Republic has some serious flaws but which could be fixed by amending a half dozen articles, not replacing the whole thing. I’ll elaborate on that matter at the opportune moment.

As usual  I took photos of the event and with commentary—click on the pics (there are 92) and scroll with the arrow—which I put into an album here.

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Paris, March 5th 2017 (photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via RTL)

Paris, March 5th 2017 (photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via RTL)

[update below]

François Fillon’s “Grand rassemblement populaire” at the Trocadéro this afternoon. It was make or break for his candidacy, or so they were saying in his LR party: if fewer than 50,000 showed up, he was dead in the water, with no choice but to drop out of the race. If there were more than 50K, then he stays. For now, at least. Fillon and his supporters say there were 200K; the police figure—invariably accurate—is 40 to 50K. I went, just to observe and take pics. It was hard to get a sense of the crowd size except that it seemed big, as it was impossible to enter the square. It was a le peuple de droite: mainly older conservative bourgeois Catholics. Fillon’s hardcore base. He was on the France 2 news this evening for 20 minutes, playing the victim and insisting that he’s maintaining his candidacy. Alain Juppé will be making a statement tomorrow morning and the LR Comité Politique—comprised of the party’s top heavyweights—meets at 6pm. If Fillon hasn’t withdrawn from the race by Tuesday, that means he’s in to the bitter end. And the French Republican party crashes and burns on April 23rd.

A couple dozen of my photos of the rally—with commentary—are in an album here.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The central role played in the organization of the Trocadéro rally by Sens Commun—the political emanation of the anti-gay marriage “Manif pour tous” movement of 2013—has been observed by many, not to mention the hard-right demographic of the rally itself, and of Fillon’s hardcore conservative base more generally. The May 8th Le Canard Enchaîné has a short item on this.


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Photo: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pélissier

Photo: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pélissier

In September 2014 I had a post entitled “Can Marine Le Pen win in ’17?,” in which I answered my rhetorical question with a categorical no. Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it. And I have repeated this on numerous occasions since—on AWAV and in social media exchanges—and dismissing while I was at it the hand-wringers and nervous Nellies who fretted that yes, Henny Penny the sky is falling!, she can win—though without any of these Cassandras offering scenarios as to how this could happen. My confident assertions as to the impossibility of Marine Le Pen being elected president of the republic have been based on her disastrous poll numbers over the past seven years—her favorable/unfavorable rating consistently being one of the worst in the French political class (and far worse than Donald Trump’s at any point)—and the fact that in order for her to prevail in the 2nd round of a presidential election, large numbers of voters who otherwise despise and loathe her, and tell pollsters that they would never under any circumstances vote for her, would then go out and do just that: vote for her. Presidential 2nd rounds have the highest turnout of any election in the French system, averaging—minus one unique, very particular exception—83% since universal suffrage was instituted for the office in 1965. So if Marine were to win, some 20 million voters would likely have to vote for her. To date, the highest number of votes the Front National has ever received is 6.8 million in the 2nd round of the 2015 regional elections (with a 58.5% turnout). Somehow I can’t see this skyrocketing to 20M, particularly as MLP’s popularity ratings (deeply negative) have not moved even slightly in the course of the campaign.

But… circumstances do change. The situation evolves. And when circumstances change and situations evolve, I adjust my analyses accordingly. While I still consider a Marine LP victory to be highly unlikely, I no longer categorically rule it out. Anyone reading this is likely aware that Marine is at the top of the 1st round polls, at around 25%, and with three-fourths of those who say they will vote for her definitive in their choice. She is nigh certain to make it to the 2nd round on May 7th. Everyone takes this for granted at this point. The polls show her losing big in the 2nd, but polls change and her projected 2nd round score is creeping upwards. Whatever happens, she will most certainly break 40%.

So how could she win? Here are the scenarios:

  • François Fillon, who, as one knows, is seriously damaged politically, nonetheless manages to rally the LR party base and squeak past Emmanuel Macron and into the 2nd round. Fillon will probably defeat Marine, as a sufficient number of left voters (myself included)—so terrified by the prospect of a Marine victory—will probably vote for him while holding their noses. But large numbers of left voters will not bring themselves to do this, and particularly if Fillon is mis en examen—and he now insists that he’s staying in the race regardless—and doubles down on his Sarkozy-like, hard right rhetoric on immigration and security. The revulsion against Fillon is massive on the left (in a way it was not for Chirac in 2002). If masses of left voters nullify their ballots or stay home, and with a certain number of working class ones who voted Mélenchon in the 1st actually voting for Marine in the 2nd—and one may be sure that she will appeal to this latter cohort in the final phase of the campaign—she could possibly win in a cliffhanger, and particularly if enough conservative LR voters disgusted by Fillon also decide to go for her.
  • Benoît Hamon pulls off a shocker and makes it to the 2nd. In this scenario, Fillon’s support would plunge into the mid-teens, with LR voters defecting to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan or to Marine LP herself, who reaches 30% in the 1st. Likewise with Macron, whose serial flip-flopping, trying to be too many things to too many people, and finally revealed as a political Nowhere Man having benefited from a bulle médiatique would prompt his erstwhile center-left supporters to go with Hamon after all—or to François Bayrou if he enters the race. If Bayrou gets in—and he’ll be making an announcement on this tomorrow—he will most certainly peel off voters from Macron, possibly reaching 10% in the 1st round. In the 2nd round, the left would vote as a block for Hamon but LR voters, who so despise the left—and will simply not accept five more years of the PS in power—will go massively for Marine, particular as she will sweet-talk them to death entre les tours. If centrist voters vote blanc/nul or abstain, Marine may well gain enough votes to break 50%.
  • The nightmare scenario: Fillon’s and Macron’s numbers go south for the aforementioned reasons and with Hamon losing ground on the left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. With the four candidates all bunched in the mid-teens—and Marine at 30%—Mélenchon ekes out a narrow second place finish and goes on to face MLP on May 7th. The right votes as one for Marine and with centrist and center-left voters emigrating en masse to Canada or maybe killing themselves. And Marine wins.

And there’s more. One thing I have insisted on over the years is that even if, in some outlandish scenario, Marine Le Pen were elected president of the republic, there is no way the FN could possibly win the legislative elections in June. Marine would almost immediately find herself in a cohabitation—and, as one knows, during cohabitations power constitutionally shifts to the prime minister and away from the president. This assertion of mine needs revision. If elected on May 7th, Marine’s first act will be to appoint a prime minister. I guarantee that the man or woman she names will not be from her party. She’ll ask a high-profile hard-right personality from LR, e.g. Laurent Wauquiez, who shares her views on just about everything save Europe (and even then). If she offers the post to Wauquiez, of course he’ll accept. To win over LR support, she’ll compromise on Europe, e.g. by postponing the promised referendum on the euro. Marine’s overtures, not to mention the mere fact of her being at the summit of the state, will blow LR apart, with the right-wingers—Sarkozyistes, Copéistes, most Fillonistes—endorsing an alliance with the FN, and the more moderate conservatives—Juppéistes, some Fillonistes—refusing collaboration, rendering inevitable a breakup of the party. The government constituted by a prime minister Wauquiez will include ministers from the FN, LR, DLF, and MPF, i.e. it will be a coalition of the hard and extreme-right, assembled into an enlarged Rassemblement Bleu Marine (RBM). Some hypothetical ministerial appointments: Florian Philippot (economy/finance), Steeve Briois (interior), Gilbert Collard (justice), Thierry Mariani (foreign affairs), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (European affairs), Gérard Longuet (defense), Eric Ciotti (education), Philippe de Villiers (culture), Robert Ménard (communication), Valérie Boyer (social affairs), Geoffroy Didier (immigration and integration), Lydia Guirous (cities/youth and sports), David Rachline (government spokesman)…

With Marine’s election and such a government in place, the FN would go into the June legislative elections with a head of steam. Given the fragmentation of the political field—with candidates of LR-UDI, the PS, La France Insoumise/PCF, and whatever remains of En Marche!—the number of triangulaires would be exceptionally high, particularly if the turnout is likewise (reaching, say, 70%). Withdrawal accords between FN and pro-FN LR candidates would almost certainly guarantee an RBM majority in the National Assembly. And the rest would be history. Marine Le Pen and the FN would rule France for the next five years. And there’s not a thing the left or anyone else could do about it.

This would be a disaster, needless to say. Marine Le Pen is Donald Trump without the crazy, as James Traub pithily put it, and which thus makes her more dangerous. She knows exactly where she wants to take France and, as president of the republic and with a legislative majority, would have more instruments at her disposal than does Trump in the US, as there are fewer checks on executive power in France hors cohabitation. And her government, such as hypothesized above, would not be made up of kooks and whack jobs à la Trump but rather of seasoned political pros. I will speculate at a later date as to what Marine would do in her first few months in power but, trust me, it would be bad. Very very bad.

The one candidate who can most certainly beat Marine, and handily, is Emmanuel Macron. I’m a little unsettled about him at the moment—I think he’s making some mistakes—but have to hope that his campaign does not falter in the coming two months, that he finishes strongly, and moves into the 2nd round. The fate of the republic may depend on it.

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After the Socialist primary and with Penelopegate—or, rather, Françoisgate—dominating the news. This past week has been the craziest in French politics in I don’t know how long. What is clear: François Fillon, who looked to be an all but shoo-in after his brilliant, amazing victory in November’s LR primary—a victory absolutely no one foresaw even three weeks beforehand—is now toast. Il est mort. And with the French Republican party—the largest in the country, which looked set to govern France for the next five years, following the debacle of François Hollande’s quinquennat—now reeling and in disarray, and eleven weeks before the 1st round of the presidential election. This is a disaster for the French parliamentary right and deeply unsettling for the French political system. Thanks to the venerable Le Canard Enchaîné—the honor of the French press—and the investigative reports in its January 25th and February 1st issues of the egregious nepotism practiced by Fillon over a dozen years, the presidential race has been completely upended—and with the 2007 interview with Penelope Fillon, unearthed by France 2 last Thursday (watch here), looking to be the coup de grâce. And if not, the latest revelation, this in today’s Le Monde, should do it.

Fillon is defiant, first railing on about conspiracies hatched by unnamed cabals and saying that he would quit the race only if magistrates deemed that his nepotistic practices were in violation of the law—which we won’t know for weeks, if not months—then with his press conference this afternoon, in which he apologized to the French people for “errors” committed in the past regarding the employment of his family, though which was entirely legal. But whether or not the nepotism was, in fact, legal—which it may possibly have been—it doesn’t matter. Fillon’s sober, upright, squeaky clean image—a man of integrity and probity: one of his big selling points—has been shattered—and with voters of his own party, not to mention the larger electorate. Seriously: how can one call for belt-tightening and budgetary blood, sweat, and tears when one has been revealed to have shamelessly enriched one’s own family—i.e. oneself—at taxpayer expense? I don’t see how Fillon recovers from this. If he maintains his candidacy—and only he can decide to renounce, which he appears determined not to do—he will most certainly be eliminated in the 1st round on April 23rd—and the latest polls are already projecting this (here and here). Most LR voters will, out of partisan loyalty, vote for him—and an IFOP-JDD poll out yesterday shows 64% of those voters continuing to support his candidacy—but enough will defect—to Marine Le Pen, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, or Emmanuel Macron—nullify their ballots, or stay home, thus killing his chances.

What is striking in this affair is Fillon’s cluelessness. Though he sounded contrite at his press conference, he manifestly did not understand even ten days after the affair broke that politicians can’t get away with this kind of thing anymore. Political mores in France are no longer what they used to be. Until recently politicians would explain away such corruption as a natural product of France being a “Latin country”—as opposed to an “Anglo-Saxon” or “Nordic” one (and, as I have noted over the years, people really do believe these cultural clichés). As a politician of the right once said in waving off affairs of corruption, “si la France était la Suède, ça se saurait” (if France were Sweden, we would know it). I remember listening on the radio, back in the ’90s, to the conservative journalist Philippe Tesson justifying the time-honored practice of government ministers annually receiving, as a perk, thick envelopes of public cash, with which they could do whatever they pleased and with no accountability. Autre temps, autres mœurs.

The drama for the LR party—whose leadership, looking into the electoral abyss, has been desperately hoping that Fillon would withdraw his candidacy—is that it has no procedure for selecting a new candidate. It’s too late to organize another primary, that’s a certainty. But what legitimacy would a candidate designated à la va-vite by the party’s Political Bureau or National Council carry in the eyes of the party membership? And who would that candidate be? Primary runner-up Alain Juppé has ruled himself out, which is a good thing. The conservative LR base doesn’t want him, which is why he was buried in a landslide by Fillon in the primary’s 2nd round. Making the loser the winner won’t fly. And in a field of candidates born in the 1960s and ’70s, Juppé would look out of place. His moment has passed. Nicolas Sarkozy? LOL.

That leaves the younger generation. François Baroin would seem a good compromise choice except for the bad blood between him and Juppé, and though he’s a well-spoken, eternally boyish-looking 51-years-old, has been in politics for so long that he seems old and, moreover, has no demonstrated appeal outside the core LR electorate. And his poll numbers aren’t too good: +24/-36 favorable/unfavorable in the latest IPSOS baromètre politique, and with 40% having no opinion of him. Il ne marque évidemment pas les esprits. Xavier Bertrand wouldn’t be bad but, like Baroin, lacks notoriety and is probably too moderate and gauche-friendly for many LR voters. Laurent Wauquiez: too right-wing. C’est un vrai réac celui-là. Valérie Pécresse: she could have a certain appeal but, frankly, I can’t see her being it. And her IPSOS fave/unfave rating, presently at +25/-45, is also not brilliant. Senate president and filloniste Gérard Larcher’s name has been advanced. Problem: if he were to walk through the Forum des Halles, down the Canebière, or across the Place Bellecour, most people wouldn’t recognize him. Just as most people don’t know what his voice sounds like. He has never been on anyone’s list of présidentiables. His notoriety, or lack thereof, is such that his name doesn’t even figure in the IPSOS baromètre. So scratch that one.

The LR party is in a truly bad situation. Even if Fillon throws in the towel and a replacement candidate is designated by some hasty procedure—and this would have to happen very soon—s/he will have to put together a program and discourse in short order—it can’t and won’t be 100% Fillon’s—and then try sell it to a party base in a state of shock and disarray, not to mention a larger right-of-center electorate so disgusted by LR that a sizable portion of it will have already defected to Macron (or Marine LP). And then, if s/he were to somehow make it to the 2nd round, would have to attract a sufficient number of left voters to defeat Marine. What a calamity. No one has any idea of how this is going to play out.

As for the Socialists, they’re looking in better shape than LR at the moment, which is quite amazing. Benoît Hamon’s victory over Manuel Valls the Sunday before last was as decisive as victories can get—and with participation crossing the 2 million threshold, carried legitimacy. Hamon is the best possible candidate for the PS right now: he’s smart and well-spoken, which was demonstrated in his stellar debate performance of Jan. 25th; is relatively young (age 49) but with a long political career; was a frondeur—i.e. party dissident these past three years—so doesn’t have Hollande’s bilan hanging around his political neck; and best incarnates the current état d’esprit of the PS median voter. A certain number of Valls militants and supporters are defecting to Macron, which is inevitable. But if the polarizing Valls had been the primary victor, the exodus of Hamon voters to other candidates—Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot, even Macron—would have been greater. Valls was more unacceptable to Hamon supporters—and which includes those who voted for Arnaud Montebourg and Vincent Peillon—than vice-versa. E.g. Valls’ authoritarian, intransigent laïcité de combat discourse—and demagoguery on the issue against Hamon—so repulsed many PS and other left voters (myself included) that they would not have voted for him under almost any circumstance.

And then there’s an issue that may seem secondary but is actually significant, both symbolically and practically, which is the legalization of cannabis. France has been way behind the curve on this compared to other European countries (and also the US), for reasons I have not entirely comprehended. The right but also the PS has refused to even debate the question of decriminalizing cannabis and other soft drugs, maintaining a repressive posture from another era that, entre autres, diverts law enforcement and the judicial system in a hugely expensive and time-wasting endeavor that is doomed to failure. Hamon and others on the left and center—including Mélenchon and Macron—now advocate legalization, but not Valls. The latter’s tough guy, Sarkozy-like posture just doesn’t fly on the left and it’s hard to see where he goes politically from here. The future of the French Socialist Party—or what remains of it after this election cycle—is with Benoît Hamon and those who have rallied to him.

As for Hamon’s signature issue, the revenu universel—that the right, center, and Valls-supporting Socialists dismiss as harebrained pie-in-the-sky—I said last time that I don’t pay much attention to Santa Claus-type promises from presidential candidates. As for whether or not the revenu universel is realistic, I don’t know and have neither the time nor interest in delving into the issue to find out, though I do note that brilliant, high-profile economists, such as Daniel Cohen and Thomas Piketty, have endorsed some form of what Hamon is advocating. What is important with grandiose proposals such as the revenu universel—which may sound unrealistic (one thinks of Bernie Sanders and single-payer health care or tuition-free college)—is not that they will necessarily see the light of day right away—Hamon, in the most unlikely event he were elected president of the republic and obtained a legislative majority, would certainly compromise on his scheme or scale it back—but rather express the candidate’s world-view and point in the direction s/he wants to take the country. (BTW and for the record, Hamon is much more akin to Bernie than he is to Jeremy Corbyn; the latter’s French kindred spirit is Mélenchon).

Left voters are clearly happy with Hamon’s victory, in view of the sharp spike in his poll numbers. The Cevipof-IPSOS-Sopra Steria-Le Monde mega poll of mid-January had him at 7% in the event he were the PS candidate. He’s now as high as 18%—in fourth place, just behind Macron and Fillon—and with his favorable numbers way up. It’s clear that Hamon is taking votes from Mélenchon; such is reflected not only in the latter’s significant polling drop—down to 9-10%—but is also what I’ve been hearing from people. Hamon is an attractive alternative for leftist voters otherwise furious at the Socialists’ record in power over the past five years but doubtful over JLM’s ability to reach the 2nd round, let alone win (and the mere thought of a Marine LP-Mélenchon run-off—a scenario out of the Twilight Zone—is enough to strike terror and sleepless nights in persons like myself). JLM may be running a good campaign and, with his hologram, packing the meeting halls but, as I’ve said many times, there is a ceiling to his support, of 14% of the electorate max. And I will wager here and now that he will not match his 11.1% score of 2012. As for Hamon’s score: if the écolo Jadot withdraws his candidacy and throws his support to Hamon, it is not totally out of the question that he could finish third. Making it to the 2nd round is another matter. I doubt anyone in the PS thinks that one is realistic.

The candidate best situated to make it to the 2nd and face Marine LP—and her qualification is, at this point, an all but foregone conclusion—is Emmanuel Macron. Those of my general political parti pris are, in any case, crossing their fingers that Macron makes it. He has taken off in the polls, as one is likely aware, and, with the Fillon debacle, is a serious contender to be elected president of the republic. I watched part of his speech at the big rally in Lyon on Saturday—streamed live online (thanks to Art Goldhammer for posting the site on social media)—which went for an hour and forty minutes. Monsieur Macron has a lot to say. He made sure to cover all the bases and press all the buttons in his catch-all appeal to voters spanning the center-left to the center-right. There was something in it for everyone—and nothing major that would turn anyone off—in that sizable segment of the political spectrum he seeks to occupy. It was the first time I’ve watched him speak at length. Mediapart’s Mathieu Magnaudeix called his tone that of a “drowsy televangelist.” He sounded good to me, and the crowd at the overflowing arena clearly felt likewise. He has yet to reveal his detailed program but the outline, indeed much of the content, is clear. He’s a social-libéral on the economy and a North American-style liberal on questions de société. On my personal litmus tests—laïcité, migrants and immigration, depenalization of cannabis—he passes. And he’s pro-Europe. His invitation to American scientists fleeing the Trump regime is also appreciated.

Lefties—including personal friends and family members—are bashing Macron, labeling him a right-winger, an ultra-libéral—a grievous insult for French gauchistes—and purveyor of an “Uberized” economy, entre autres. This is excessive, IMO, if not downright silly. One promise I find in the prospect of a Macron presidency is in an area in which he has so far not expressed himself, which is introducing a measure of proportional representation in legislative elections, of perhaps even half the seats in the National Assembly. Small parties are for it, the big ones—PS and LR—against, and as Macron is not of the latter, he has no a priori reason not to favor such a change. François Bayrou, who will announce by mid month whether or not he’ll jump in the race, has long advocated a dose of PR. Bayrou has been critical of Macron but implicitly left the door open to him in an interview late last month on France Inter. If Macron incorporates PR into his program, it could prompt Bayrou—who is polling in the mid single digits—not to run and to endorse Macron, which would increase ever more the latter’s chances of making it to the 2nd round. And if Macron were to hint that he would appoint Bayrou prime minister—which would be entirely logical—that could clinch the deal with a lot of people. This is admittedly idle speculation on my part. On verra.

I’ll have a post on Macron’s program when he fully releases it. In the meantime, he is sure to become an increasing target of Russian dirty tricks and no doubt from the Stephen Bannon White House too. As both the Putin and Trump regimes want to see Marine Le Pen in the Élysée, Macron sera l’homme à abattre

As for Marine—who released her dystopian, Trumpian campaign platform yesterday—I’m not going to talk about her right now, except to say two things.

First, as mentioned above, she is all but certain to make it to the 2nd round and, if current polling holds, finish in first place, with up to 25%, even more. She has her own potential scandals—plus real ones—but, as a populist candidate, they’re not affecting her standing in the polls. Her supporters, like Trump’s outre-Atlantique, don’t care. And insofar as many of them get their information from the fachosphère (French alt-right)—and the FN has a sophisticated internet operation, with troll armies and all—they will dismiss what is reported in the soi-disant mainstream media. Moreover, Marine appears to be attracting increasing interest among voters in social categories that have heretofore been allergic to the extreme right, such as Muslims, domiens, young people, and seniors.

Second, I have been dismissive of MLP’s chances of winning the presidency, on account of her disastrous favorable/unfavorable numbers: +23/-71 in the IPSOS baromètre, signifying that in order for her to win, a lot of people, mainly on the left, who hate her would nonetheless have to vote for her. And while I will continue to insist that the prospect of her winning is minimal, I no longer categorically rule it out. These are crazy times and with populism on the march. France will likely be saved by its electoral system—a victorious presidential candidate needs 50.01% of the vote, and participation rates in the 2nd round are always high: with a single, unique exception, it has never dropped below 79% in a presidential election—but given the discredit of the parties of government, particularly the PS, and the Fillon debacle, all sorts of scenarios can be credibly envisaged, even those considered outlandish two months ago. If Macron runs into trouble, then I will get worried. This election is wide open.

À suivre.

Emmanuel Macron, Lyon, 4 February 2017

Emmanuel Macron, Lyon, 4 February 2017

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I would have normally had at least two or three posts on this by now but as I was in the US for 2½ weeks until last weekend, I didn’t catch any of the three pre-1st round debates—sure, I could have watched them en différé online but didn’t—and was admittedly not following French politics too closely while stateside, what with the unbelievable political nightmare unfolding outre-Atlantique and that naturally dominated political discussion in my entourage there. Also, it didn’t seem to be hugely important—unlike last November’s primary of the right and center—as there is not a soul in France and Navarre who thinks that the PS primary winner has a snowball’s chance in hell of even making it to the 2nd round of the presidential election, let alone winning it (and the participation rate would tend to bear this out: some 1.6 million voters on Sunday, compared to 2.6 in the 2011 PS primary 1st round and 4.3 in the right’s one in November). I did, however, get back to France in time to vote in the primary’s first ballot—disclosure: for Benoît Hamon, sans état d’âme—and watch Wednesday’s debate between the top two finishers Hamon and Manuel Valls, who will square off in the 2nd round on Sunday. Three brief comments.

First, it is labeled the primary of “La Belle Alliance Populaire” (BAP), signifying that it was open to all comers on the left—including Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Emmanuel Macron—but this was a joke. There was not a chance that these two gentlemen were going to participate in an exercise organized by the Rue de Solférino and with the strings pulled by PS First Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis (a.k.a. Camba), who gives the word “apparatchik” a bad name. It was a Socialist Party primary, point barre, with candidates who could have fostered discordance and semer la zizanie in the debates—e.g. la trés gauchiste Gérard Filoche and Pierre Larrouturrou, the latter of the minuscule but intriguing Nouvelle Donne—ruled ineligible by Camba even before they could submit their qualifying signatures. The non-PS candidates who were allowed to participate were there strictly pour la figuration: François de Rugy and Jean-Luc Bennahmias—both former EELV members now with their own microscopic écolo groupuscules no one can remember the names of (and with Bennahmias being a drôle de zigoto to boot)—and Sylvia Pinel, who presently heads the diminutive, centrist Parti Radical de Gauche, holds a ministerial post in the current government that everyone needs to Google to remember what it is, and who is mainly distinguished for saying nothing whatever of interest when speaking before a microphone. The Socialists were nonetheless desperate to have her run in the BAP primary, as they absolutely needed a woman. Six mecs et pas une seule nana: l’image aurait été dévastatrice pour le premier parti de la gauche…

It appeared from the moment François Hollande threw in the towel in December that the primary would pit Valls—on the right end of the PS—against Arnaud Montebourg on the left, and with the former having the edge. I evoked back then the prospect of a dark horse, who did indeed emerge in the person of frondeur Hamon. As for Vincent Peillon, he could have been an interesting competitor to Montebourg but his candidacy was unexpected—he announced out of the blue four days before the December 15th deadline—and, as he had faded from public view since leaving the government in 2014, never got off the ground. I didn’t take Hamon extremely seriously until his appearance on France 2’s semimonthly two-hour political interview show ‘L’Émission Politique’ on December 8th, in which he impressed everyone who saw it (I didn’t). He took off from that moment and I started to predict that he would overtake the eternal gadfly Montebourg to face off against Valls in the 2nd round, and that he did. It was indeed an almost foregone conclusion by the day of the 1st round that Hamon would finish in first place.

Second, the BAP primary, as everyone knows, is less about selecting the strongest Socialist candidate for the presidential election—as the PS is all but hors course for this—but rather the person who will lead the party for the next five years—or what remains of it after the shipwreck of Hollande’s quinquennat. Not only is the PS looking at a rout on April 23rd but risks emerging from the June legislative elections with a parliamentary group resembling the one after the 1993 wipe-out, when it was reduced to 56 deputies (out of 577) in the National Assembly. The party is deeply divided, between a social-libéral, productivist, militantly républicain wing led by tough guy Valls and a more leftist, anti-libéral écolo-friendly one—now represented by Hamon—but that is less sécuritaire and with a more liberal conception of laïcité. For the latter alone I lean in that direction. As Valls has become radioactive for large numbers of PS voters—personally, I can’t stand him—the prospect of him leading a post-election PS—again, what remains of it—would almost guarantee either a formal split in the party or sizable defections to Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise. The crisis in the left would worsen. So better to go with Hamon.

As for my own vote for Hamon, it’s strategic. My intention at this date is to vote for Emmanuel Macron in the 1st round on April 23rd. I did not take Macron’s candidacy seriously at all until his mega rally at the Palais des Sports on December 10th (which I was going to attend—just to go—but couldn’t make it to). A 39-year-old presidential candidate who has never run for public office and with no party behind him, ça prête à sourire. But the success of his Paris rally—before a packed arena of at least 12,000—changed everything, and particularly as he’s been repeating the feat at every rally he’s held since then, drawing unprecedented crowds in places like Nevers, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, and elsewhere in the French heartland (Marine Le Pen, by contrast, held her big 2012 Paris rally at the Zénith, which seats but 6,300). And this is being reflected in his rising poll numbers. I’ll have more about Macron at a later date but suffice to say now that he is presently occupying a wide space in the center of the political spectrum, spanning the center-left to center-right. And he has a general discourse that I find congenial: social-libéral but liberal in the North American sense on questions de société and laïcité. And he’s pro-Europe. As the prospect of a Marine Le Pen-François Fillon 2nd round is looking increasingly unpalatable—though Fillon is now in deep trouble on account of Penelopegate—Macron is presently the only candidate, according to the polls, who can knock one of these two out. And then win.

If Valls were to be the PS candidate, his social-libéralisme would complicate matters for Macron. But with Hamon the candidate, many Valls voters will likely go to Macron. Hamon widens the space for Macron while at the same time reducing that of Mélenchon, from whom he will likely take voters. D’une pierre deux coups. Thus my strategic choice for Hamon.

Third comment, on Wednesday’s debate between Hamon and Valls. I’m always impressed with French political debates, as the politicians are so articulate and in command of the issues. They all sound like Hillary Clinton discussing policy—and make US Republicans look like the bumbling, gaffe-prone nitwits they are. Hamon-Valls was, however, the best I’ve seen in a long while. It was a superb debate. Valls was good and less aggressive than expected. But Hamon was downright excellent. It was the first time I’d seen him at any length and was suitably impressed. He killed it. Now I’m talking here about form, which, in a high-stakes debate, is more important than substance. Hardly anyone remembers the details of policy proposals or dwells on inconsistencies. It’s the overall impression that counts. Hamon was extremely articulate, demonstrated mastery of the issues, was fast on his feet, adopted the right tone, and never missed a beat. He simply came across very well (one may see the whole debate here, beginning at around 29:00). As for his proposal on the revenu universel and whether or not this is realistic, who cares? Personally speaking, I discount grandiose promises made by candidates early in a campaign and that need to be financed. The more a promise will cost the taxpayer and impact on the budget, the less I take it seriously. In any case, Hamon’s performance has made victory in this coming Sunday’s 2nd round an all but done deal.

I’ll have more to say about this next week. In the meantime, if one missed Arthur Goldhammer’s posts on the primary—and Art and I have been exchanging views on this via social media—go here and here.

À la prochaine.

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[update below]

I feel badly for Alain Juppé. It was clear that he was going to lose the 2nd round and in a landslide—i.e. by a margin > than 10 points—but this was a rout. He’s an honorable man and did not merit such a drubbing. So the French right now has an uncontested champion in François Fillon, around whom the entire LR party has united and that will likely be followed by a large portion of the UDI as well. As I have written in previous posts, Fillon, politically speaking, is at the midpoint of the mainstream right side of the French political spectrum, in that large space between the centrist fringe of the Socialists and the Front National. And as I have equally written, Fillon has the personal stature and temperament to be President of the Republic, which no one even on the left would dispute (quite unlike Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande, whose temperamental and stature issues necessitate no explanation). Fillon, at this stage of the race, has to be seen as the front-runner in next spring’s presidential election: to qualify for the 2nd round, which goes without saying, and then to win it.

As to whether or not he will in fact win it, all sorts of pundits and commentators outre-Atlantique and outre-Manche have been weighing in with hypotheses and speculation. Among those handicapping the race is my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer—the outre-Atlantique French politics specialist whose analyses I look to before any other—who has a post-2nd round commentary up in The American Prospect, portentously entitled “Will Marine Le Pen become France’s next president?” A good piece, comme d’hab’, and with Art correctly concluding that “[he has] no idea what’s going to happen [a]nd neither does anyone else.” In the first paragraph, though, he says that Fillon’s victory “makes the election of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen more likely.” I’m not sure about that. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here IMHO.

Three points. First, with five months to go to the 1st round—the precise date is April 23rd—it is simply too early to be making predictions. Things are likely to change in the course of the campaign and with surprises in store. This likelihood is readily revealed by a cursory examination of the previous presidential elections of the Fifth Republic. As one will note, the only prior election where the final outcome more or less mirrored the state of the race five months before the first vote was cast was the last one, in 2012. In late November-early December 2011, Hollande was killing Sarkozy in the polls and, of course, ended up defeating the incumbent president in the end (though his 3.2% margin of victory was far narrower than what all the earlier polls had presaged). As for the other elections, here’s a quick run-down in inverse chronological order:

  • 2007 — In early December 2006, Ségolène Royal—fresh off a blowout 1st round victory in the PS primary—was at parity in the polls with Nicolas Sarkozy. They were exactly equal. The outcome: Sarkozy won handily (53-47).
  • 2002 — In late 2001, both Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin were at 25-30% in the polls, and with not a soul in France and Navarre doubting that the two would face off in the 2nd round. Jean-Marie Le Pen, for his part, was in the single digits. The outcome: Jospin received but 16.18% on that 21 avril de funeste mémoire and was shockingly overtaken by Le Pen (at 16.86%). As for Chirac, his 1st round score was a paltry 19.88%. The 2nd round was a foregone conclusion (and with the French people, in effect, deprived of a presidential election).
  • 1995 — In late autumn 1994 PM Édouard Balladur was flying high in the polls and with Chirac going nowhere. Conventional wisdom was that Balladur all but had it in the bag. As for the Socialists—who, at the end of President Mitterrand’s interminable second septennat, were as discredited then as they are today—they didn’t even have a candidate after their great hope Jacques Delors announced, on precisely December 11th, that he wasn’t interested in running. The PS organized a quick primary for January—France’s first ever (a closed one, for card-carrying party members only)—and with two declared candidates: the PS’s gauchiste First Secretary Henri Emmanuelli and Lionel Jospin, who unexpectedly emerged from the political wilderness and to much mockery. Almost no one in the punditocracy or political class took Jospin seriously as a presidential candidate, even after his surprising 2 to 1 landslide victory in the primary. The CW was that he would be eliminated in the 1st round and with the 2nd pitting Balladur against Chirac. The outcome: Jospin finished an unexpected first in the 1st round (23%), going on to lose against Chirac, who had bested Balladur, in the 2nd but with a respectable 47.4% of the vote (thus making him the uncontested chef de file of the PS for the next seven years, that absolutely no one foresaw in late ’94).
  • 1988 — In late 1987 Raymond Barre was polling in the mid 20s and ahead of PM Chirac, and with his 2nd round poll numbers against President Mitterrand showing a relatively close race (52-48 for Mitterrand). The outcome: Chirac decisively overtook Barre in the 1st round (and proceeded to be buried in the 2nd by Mitterrand, 54-46).
  • 1981 — In December 1980 President Giscard d’Estaing had a solid lead in the polls over François Mitterrand and was seen by all and sundry as headed to reelection. The outcome: Mitterrand stuns Giscard in the 2nd round (52-48) on that glorious 10 mai 81.
  • 1974 — At the beginning of the short five week campaign following President Pompidou’s death, the historic Gaullist Jacques Chaban-Delmas had the edge over Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in the contest on the right as to who would square off against the unity candidate of the left, François Mitterrand. The outcome: Giscard easily distanced Chaban in the 1st round (and squeaking by Mitterrand in the 2nd).
  • 1969 — At the onset of the five week campaign following De Gaulle’s resignation, the centrist Alain Poher—president of the senate and acting president of the republic—was level with Georges Pompidou. The outcome: The left having been eliminated in the 1st round, Pompidou went on to pummel Poher in the 2nd (58-42).
  • 1965 — The IFOP poll just three weeks before the vote had President de Gaulle winning outright on the 1st ballot, with 60%. The outcome: CDG, netting a mere 44.65% of the vote, was forced into a 2nd round against François Mitterrand (whom he defeated 55-45: a great score for just about any mortal candidate but for a man of de Gaulle’s stature, somewhat of an échec).

The moral of the story: it is best to avoid handicapping or predicting in November an election scheduled for the following April.

Second point. On Marine Le Pen, I have insisted I don’t know how many times that so long as she remains the most unpopular major political figure in France—with an favorable/unfavorable rating on the order of +25/-71 (in the latest IPSOS baromètre)—she will have no chance—I repeat, no chance whatever—of winning the 2nd round of a presidential election. And even less so against a candidate whose fave/unfave numbers are far less negative than hers. If MLP is Donald Trump (who is actually far more popular in his country than she is in hers), Fillon is not Hillary Clinton: voters of the left don’t like his positions on the issues but there is no visceral loathing and hatred of his person such as that heaped on Hillary following decades of demonization by the Republican/right-wing attack machine. The mass detestation of the left toward Sarkozy has not transferred to Fillon. The notion that voters of the left, faced with a Sophie’s Choice between Fillon and Le Pen, will hold their noses in the fetid stench and vote for the latter because her campaign rhetoric is a little more social makes no sense at all. Working class and other voters from the couches populaires—not to mention fonctionnaires (teachers et al)—who still vote for the left are not going to suddenly defect to the extreme right and vote for a candidate named Le Pen. For Marine LP to win in a 2nd round against Fillon—the candidate of the mainstream right, supported by every last courant in the LR party—well over half of her vote would necessarily have to come from the left, from those who habitually vote for the PS and Front de Gauche; from people who hate the FN and all it stands for, who consider Marine LP to be a danger to democracy and the republic.

This is crazy. C’est du grand n’importe quoi. What will, in fact, happen if it’s Fillon vs. Le Pen in the 2nd is that a few contrarian left voters will go for the latter, with more—out of Front Républicain reflex—holding their noses and voting Fillon to block MLP, and the sizable rest voting blanc or nul, or simply staying home.

Another thing. If Marine LP’s campaign rhetoric accents the social—if she tries to outflank Fillon on the left by playing up her attachment to the famous modèle social français—a potentially consequential number of FN voters in the south will defect to Fillon. Part of the FN’s vote may be populaire and living in conditions of précarité but an equal part is bourgeois, Catholic, and/or ultra-conservative—i.e. not far removed from Fillon’s core voters. FN voters in the Var, Vaucluse, and across the Mediterranean basin do not have precisely the same concerns—or the same socio-economic profile—as those in the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, and elsewhere in France’s northeastern Rust Belt. So MLP will have to think hard and fast before trying to rob Pierre to pay Paul.

As for the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be the unique candidate of the gauche de la gauche (the NPA and LO candidates are each worth 1% max, thus irrelevant). Mélenchon’s 1st round ceiling is 14%, as the addition of votes of all candidates to the left of the PS’s in presidential elections has, from 1988 on, never exceeded that. As for the total vote of the left, I mentioned the IFOP poll in my Nov. 23rd post, which put voters who identify with the left at 48% of the electorate, i.e. almost half, though the total stock of left votes in the 1st round—of all left candidates added up—has not reached this number since ’88 (as a small percentage of left-identifying working class voters have voted Le Pen in the 1st round). In order to win a presidential election, the 1st round stock for the left has to reach 43% (in 2012 it was 44.5%). If the left is at 40%, the PS candidate loses respectably. Unless there is a significant abstention of left voters in next April’s 1st round—or if a François Bayrou candidacy siphons center-left votes—the left stock should attain that number. That means that if there are but two major candidates occupying the space between Mélenchon and Fillon, i.e. the PS candidate and Bayrou or Emmanuel Macron—one of the two will have a good chance of overtaking Marine LP to make it to the 2nd round (as for Yannick Jadot and Sylvie Pinel—if she goes the distance—the two are worth 3% max together, thus negligible). If there are three candidates—PS, Macron, Bayrou—then MLP will almost surely make the 2nd round but, for the moment, I don’t see that happening. On n’en est pas là.

Bayrou: if he runs and Macron desists, I will support him in an instant. He will occupy a sizable space from the center-left to the center-right, and with a positioning on a range of issues that will appeal to a good fifth of the electorate, including those of my general bent (and, pour l’info, I have not been a fan of Bayrou’s in the past or felt affinity with his Christian Democratic world-view). He is also very smart and, given his longevity in the upper tier of the political class, has the stature to be president of the republic. But… I do not—not today at least—see him taking the plunge. It would be his fourth presidential run in a row, his party (MoDem) doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, he does not have a conflictual relationship with Fillon, and if Fillon co-opts the UDI, which appears likely, Bayrou’s political space will shrink comme une peau de chagrin. Malheureusement, I think M. Bayrou’s moment on the presidential scene may have passed.

As for Macron, he’s too green: too young and politically inexperienced to credibly aspire to the Élysée, and bereft of a party to boot. Having a high IQ and being bardé de diplômes does not, in itself, qualify one to be president of the French Republic  Sure, he can run—provided he obtains the 500 signatures to make the ballot—but I don’t see him going past the 1st round. In the highly unlikely event he were to make it to the 2nd, François Fillon would make short work of him. It would be a replay of the Chirac-Laurent Fabius debates in the run-up to the 1986 legislative elections, which the former dominated.

That leaves the Socialists. For better or worse, the front line candidate to face Fillon will most probably come from the ranks of the party that has been in power the past five years, which is the PS. President Hollande will announce any day now—maybe this weekend, no later than Dec. 15th—whether or not he’ll run for a second term. It has been my utter certainty for well over a year, even two, that he’ll throw in the towel, that his poll numbers are simply too catastrophically low for him to have the slightest chance of rallying enough voters on the left to even make it to the 2nd round, let alone be reelected. This has just seemed so obvious to me. But numerous pundits and politicos have been convinced that, yes, he will indeed do it—and with some submitting that he will even bypass the PS’s “Belle Alliance Populaire” primary in January (which would be the shortest political suicide note in modern French history, for both Hollande and his party).

We’ll know soon enough. If Hollande does announce his candidacy—which will, at minimum, constitute definitive proof that his personality is almost as narcissistic as that of the US president-elect—he will go up against at least five candidates in the primary, with Arnaud Montebourg looking to be the strongest. In that event, Montebourg will most certainly win. Seriously, why wouldn’t he? The mere chance that President Hollande would risk such humiliation renders it almost inconceivable that he will run for a second term. But crazier things have happened in history. On verra. If Hollande bows out, then Manuel Valls will certainly leap in, setting up a confrontation between him and Montebourg. The interest engendered by this match-up will certainly insure a relatively high turnout in the primary, probably not on the same level as the right’s (4.3 million) but perhaps equaling that of the PS primary in 2011, with 2.8 million voting in the 2nd round. And the candidate who emerges victorious from that will go up against Marine LP in the 1st round, to determine who faces Fillon in the 2nd. On this, scroll up and reread what happened in 1995.

Third point. Fillon’s program is, as one knows by now, très libéral. It is a program designed to win the core LR electorate but not one that will attract many new adepts in a 2nd round campaign, or even a 1st. The promise to axe 500,000 posts in the fonction publique and significantly increase out-of-pocket costs in the health care system will not fly with a large portion of the electorate, and beyond the part that votes for the left. The question is whether or not Fillon will modify some of his campaign promises to rally 51% of 2nd round voters, particularly if he faces the PS candidate. Some commentators, e.g. the panel of A-team pundits on France 5’s ‘C dans l’air’ two days ago, think Fillon will stick to his guns, that he won’t modify a thing, that it’s the program that won him a landslide victory in the high turnout primary, that it’s his marque de fabrique, he’s going to run on it, and voilà c’est tout. But other commentators, e.g. France Inter’s très libéral economic editorialist Dominique Seux, think that Fillon’s program will witness modifications in the imperative of broadening his base. Raising the retirement age and scrapping the 35 heures will remain, as will abolishing the ISF. But there will be flexibility on Sécu reimbursements and, above all, on axing the 500K public sector jobs, which, the free-marketeer Seux asserts, is “impossible.” Personally speaking, I think Fillon is sufficiently pragmatic that he will take the latter course, that he will inch a bit toward the center. On verra bien.

In conclusion, here’s a tribune posted Monday, “Meet the conservative leader who might become France’s next president,” by Arthur Prévôt, who was a student of mine—Master 2 at the ICP—two years ago. Arthur is a militant in the LR party, politically very conservative, has lived in America, is favorable to Russia, was a part of Sarkozy’s foreign policy team during the primary campaign, and for whom he wrote speeches. We profoundly disagree on just about everything political but he’s bright and was a pleasure to have as a student. He’ll have a brilliant political career if that’s what he decides to do.

ADDENDUM: I just came across a piece, dated Nov. 30th, in Politico.eu, “Why Marine Le Pen won’t win,” by Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane. The particulars of their analysis differ from mine but they arrive at the same conclusion.

UPDATE: I watched President Hollande’s address last night (Dec. 1st). I was nervous while he was talking and when it was over, went “wow!” It was a historic moment. Showing my age, I was reminded of LBJ’s address to the American nation on March 31st 1968, which occurred in circumstances similar to the predicament faced by Hollande today. Not only would Hollande have been a certain loser in the election, being eliminated in the 1st round, but most certainly a loser in the PS primary as well. After Sarkozy’s humiliation on Nov. 20th—plus Juppé’s last Sunday—Hollande’s defeat at the hands of Montebourg, Valls, or whoever would have been a foregone conclusion. Listening to the commentaries and reactions after the address, I am astonished at the surprise of pundits and politicos who expected Hollande to run for a second term and despite his execrable poll numbers (e.g. see the latest polling data linked to in this WaPo op-ed, dated Nov. 30th, by Christine Ockrent). What political planet do these people live on? As of today, it looks like the Belle Alliance Populaire primary will be a battle between Valls and Montebourg (though a third man or woman could, of course, emerge). There will be more adepts on the left for Montebourg’s dirigiste-like economic proposals than Valls’s relative libéralisme—and whose identification with the El Khomri law will be a handicap—but the latter’s tough guy pose and intransigent republicanism will likely swing the vote his way. Valls, like Ségolène Royal in the 2006 PS primary, will find his base with Français moyen PS voters in the provinces. That’s the way I see it today, at least.

Repeating what I have said above and over the past two weeks, if both Macron and Bayrou run it is difficult to see how the PS candidate—with Mélenchon gnawing at his heels—will be able to overtake Marine LP to qualify for the 2nd round. But if Bayrou does not take the plunge or Macron fails to land 500 parrainages, then Valls, with a vote in the low 20s, will have a good chance of beating MLP to make it to the 2nd (where he will then lose to Fillon). As usual, the maître-mot is: on verra.

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