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The campaign formally ended at midnight yesterday. So no rallies today, no polls, no leafleting in the markets, no wall-to-wall TV coverage of the latest stink bomb thrown at the Macron campaign (which looks to have come from the American alt-right; it won’t alter a single vote, don’t worry). Emmanuel Macron did something last night that I consider to be amazing, which was to give a sit-down interview with Mediapart and streamed live on its website, YouTube, Dailymotion, and Facebook. Instead of holding one last rally in Strasbourg, Montpellier, or wherever—and basking in the adulation of his fans and those watching live on BFMTV—Macron opted to spend the final hours of the campaign having his feet held to the fire by some of France’s most redoubtable left-wing journalists—Edwy Plenel and his team—who have been exhorting everyone to vote for Macron tomorrow but only to block Marine Le Pen. No one outdoes Edwy Plenel & Co when it comes to anti-fascism and opposing the Front National. But Mediapart has shown no indulgence toward Macron during the campaign; it has been deeply skeptical of him politically and offered unsparing coverage of his campaign (as Mediapart does with all those in power or who aspire to it). Macron, who was interviewed by Mediapart last November, knew what awaited him.

The interview—announced Thursday night on the Mediapart website—was supposed to go for an hour-and-a-half, from 8 p.m. to 9:30, but Macron arrived twenty minutes late. He stayed until 10:40, i.e. 2 hours 20 minutes, covering the gamut: economic and social policy, the environment, foreign policy, institutions, his own eventual conflicts of interest… Now I have had qualms and reservations over aspects of Macron’s program—expressed in my previous post—but have to say that I was deeply impressed by him last night, for the mere fact that he was doing the interview in the first place—on the final night of the campaign; directly addressing skeptical voters of the left, in effect—but also what he had to say.

We already knew that Macron is smart and knows policy; énarques in politics invariably fit this bill. But he showed last night both the depth of his knowledge and the seriousness with which he has thought through what he proposes to do as president of the French republic. It was a tour de force. E.g. he was cross-examined on social policy—pensions, unemployment insurance, the labor code—by veteran economics journalist Laurent Mauduit, who has been inveighing against neoliberalism since the 1990s. It was an excellent exchange and in which Macron clarified (for me, at least) his thinking on some of these issues. And the final exchange, with Mediapart journalist Carine Fouteau, on issues related to immigration and multiculturalism: responding to a question on the contrôle au faciès (ethnic-racial profiling) by the police—which is a very big problem in France—Macron gave an interesting and original response. And in discussing the general question, he mentioned, in passing, “Taylor.” The vast majority of those watching likely did not pick up on it but I knew exactly who he was referring to: Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher, whose writings on communitarianism and multiculturalism are well-known to anyone with a passing knowledge of the subject—though not so much in France. Pas mal.

Before the Mediapart interview I had a generally positive but tepid attitude toward Macron, with the qualms and reservations. After the interview my view is much more enthusiastic. He convinced me—for now at least. Bravo, Emmanuel Macron!

The interview, conveniently split into five YouTubes and by theme, may be watched on the Mediapart website here. I highly recommend it.

One article that has been making the rounds over the past week is Christopher Caldwell’s in the spring 2017 issue of City Journal, “The French, coming apart: A social thinker illuminates his country’s populist divide.” The thinker in question is the well-known geographer Christophe Guilluy, who has been writing for the past several years on “la France périphérique”—the France outside the dynamic metropolitan areas that are embedded in the global economy: the France that has been losing out with globalization—and how this explains in good part the rise of Marine Le Pen and the Front National. Now I will admit to not having read Guilluy’s books, though have plenty of tribunes by, interviews with, and articles and reviews about him. I have issues with some of his analyses—which I’ll maybe get into at a later date—but, generally speaking, don’t find his depictions of “la France périphérique” to be extremely original. Anyone who has followed the highbrow press (Le Monde, Libération et al) and kept up with the major journals—and maybe read a book or two on the subject—over the past two-odd decades will be familiar with what Guilluy is talking about. À propos, I had a blog post, “Marine’s voters,” on the precise subject five years ago almost to the day, and which makes for relevant reading today (the Envoyé Spécial reportage I link to has unfortunately vanished from the internet).

L’Obs has posted on its website (May 3rd) a redacted 1985 CIA report on Jean-Marie Le Pen. Interesting.

My prediction for tomorrow. Before Wednesday’s debate I would have said maybe 59-41 for Macron. But in view of Marine LP’s calamitous performance—and over which there is a near-total consensus—I’m going to go with the final IPSOS poll up top. So:

Macron: 63%
Le Pen: 37%
Nullified/blank ballots: 8%
Participation rate: 74%

Marine Le Pen will fall shy of 12 million votes (a good result for her).

À demain.

[update below]

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron had their debate last night, as one may be aware. It was terrible. Truly awful. The worst presidential debate in the history of the Fifth Republic. This was not, however, because both candidates were bad. One was good, the other not. No need to say which one was what.

In my previous post, I predicted that Macron would annihilate Le Pen in the debate. Now I did fear that he might commit a gaffe—which he has done more than twice in the course of the campaign—or lose his cool in the face of Madame Le Pen’s expected torrent of invective and taunts, but was nonetheless banking on a démolition en règle, that he would cut her into little pieces over her flip-flop on the euro and, more generally, the incoherence and absurdity of her entire economic program. Then there was the fact that Marine Le Pen had never before engaged in such an exercise, of a 2½ hour head-to-head exchange in which one is expected to demonstrate knowledge of policy—which, needless to say, she does not have.

I had a running commentary going on Facebook during the debate and with numerous persons weighing in, which I concluded by opining that Macron was good but that Marine “held her own.” I set the bar too low for her, subconsciously giving her a plus for her mere ability speak in complete sentences—which we’ve always known she can do (as can everyone in French public life)—that she was being an articulate, somewhat coherent Trump. And Trump-like she was, launching into demagoguery from the opening salvo and relentlessly attacking Macron to her closing statement. Now Nicolas Sarkozy did much the same against François Hollande in the 2012 debate but the violence of Marine’s vituperation was on another level altogether. And Sarkozy did not, so far as I recall, shout at Hollande or otherwise try to drown him out. On this score there was total failure by the moderators, Christophe Jakubyszyn and Nathalie Saint-Cricq, who were unable to rein her in or impose order. And it’s too bad there was no fact checking. Though Marine was clearly talking rubbish on just about everything—and that Macron continually pointed out—one had to wait for Le Monde’s “décodeurs” to document the extent of it (also Dominique Seux on France Inter this morning).

In short, Marine LP’s performance demonstrated for the umpteenth time that not only has the Front National not changed one iota since she took it over from her father but that the party utterly lacks the competence—politically and otherwise—to govern France. Even some of Marine’s sympathizers were disappointed by her performance, which, moreover, posed the question as to the utility of even trying to debate with her or others on the extreme right. An impossible debate, as Le Monde’s Vanessa Schneider put it. One wag on Facebook got it right

Debating Marine Le Pen is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are she’ll knock over all the pieces, shit on the board, and then proudly strut around as if she won.

The NYT’s Adam Nossiter also got it right in his post-debate analysis. The bottom line: Marine Le Pen, on account of her performance last night, disqualified herself from acceding to the highest elective office of the French republic.

As for Macron, he was solid throughout, parried MLP’s insults, didn’t let her get under his skin, and got in numerous digs himself, but also managed to do what he does best, which is to talk about policy. He did not, however, sufficiently take apart her bullshit on the euro and Europe. A missed opportunity, though she would have no doubt riposted by shouting back at him and raising her decibel level while she was at it. One regrets that François Fillon or Jean-Luc Mélenchon did not qualify for the 2nd round instead of Marine, as the French electorate would have been treated to a debate on another level altogether. Macron may be extremely intelligent and with some good ideas, but there are also some real problems in his program and discourse, which a more serious candidate—particularly one on the left—would have called him on.

One of the problems, as I see it at least, is Macron’s fixation on reforming the Code du Travail and in a business-friendly direction. Not that there may not be merit to some of his ideas on the matter but to make it a centerpiece of his program is odd. On the level of policy, it is simply not the case that supposed rigidities in the labor code are a principal cause of France’s high unemployment rate and slow growth. Such has not been convincingly demonstrated. As for the politics of what Macron proposes, who is he speaking to? What’s his constituency on this? If he’s trying woo patronspetits, moyens et/ou grands—he’s wasting his time, as they’re a core clientele of the mainstream right (today, the LR party)—since when has the bourgeoisie not been conservative?—and have no reason to defect to an upstart centrist formation of uncertain electoral prospects. And in terms of raw votes, immediate beneficiaries of a liberalization of the Code du Travail don’t amount to a hill of beans. But Macron does risk alienating the left—which he already has to a significant extent—with his fixation on this issue. And if he carries out his pledge to impose the reform by ordonnance, it will cause a firestorm. It’s really hard to see what such a course of action will yield a president Macron except pissing off a lot of people—many of whom could otherwise support him.

In short, one wonders about Macron’s political instincts, or the absence of. He often comes across as the énarque who graduated at the top of his class, the best and the brightest, and utterly self-confident—and full of himself. It’s a Fifth Republic technocrat/énarque syndrome, e.g. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Alain Juppé, Laurent Fabius, even François Hollande, entres autres, who ended up deeply unpopular by the end of their stints in the Élysée or Matignon. One sees this in Macron’s assertion that he considers his 8.7 million voters on April 23rd to be ipso facto supporters of the totality of his program—that a vote for him was necessarily a vote d’adhésion—when polls show—not to mention what so many in France know anecdotally—that many who voted for him in the 1st round did so strategically—in a vote utile—or faute de mieux (personally speaking, I considered voting utile for Macron through the entire 1st round campaign but finally went for Benoît Hamon). So one advises Emmanuel Macron to be a little more modest—if he can be—and make a concrete gesture or two to the left: not to Jean-Luc Mélenchon—who can go to hell—but to at least some of his voters.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire (pour le moment au moins).

UPDATE: Here are good analyses of the debate by France Inter’s Thomas Legrand, Le Point’s Sophie Coignard, and Stanford University professor Cécile Alduy.

Amiens, April 26th (photo credit: Reuters/Sipa)

Six days, actually. This promises to be a wild-and-crazy week but the only uncertainty over next Sunday’s outcome is the margin of Emmanuel Macron’s victory. Nervous Nellies—including certain journalist friends of mine—have been wringing their hands over a possible Marine Le Pen victory but this is not going to happen. As my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, in an open letter to his readers, trenchantly asserted last Friday: “Macron will be elected by a landslide. Make no mistake… He will win…” A victory is considered a landslide if the margin is 10 points or more. The average of the last ten polls have Macron winning 60-40. If the final outcome is even 55-45—i.e. a bona fide landslide—it will be viewed as almost a victory for Marine. And a margin of less than 10 points will definitely be viewed as a victory—moral and political—for her.

The big question marks are turnout and the transfer of votes from the 1st round runner-ups. The participation rate in the 1st round was 77.7% (it was 79.5 in 2012). Turnout in presidential 2nd round normally upticks by 1 to 3 points, so there may be some 1st round abstainers who will show up at the polls on May 7th—the majority of whom will likely vote Macron—but they will be more than offset by Mélenchon and Fillon voters who will not show up. The one presidential election that witnessed a drop in participation in the 2nd round was in 1969—77.6/68.8—subsequent to an explicit call by the PCF—representing a fifth of the electorate at the time, and whose voters followed party consignes—to stay home (Jacques Duclos’s famous “c’est blanc bonnet ou bonnet blanc” in regard to Poher and Pompidou). For Marine LP to have any chance next Sunday, participation will have to drop into the mid 50s. This would be unprecedented; in reality, it’s inconceivable. Everyone’s doing back-of-the-envelope calculations of hypothetical vote transfers. The most optimistic numbers I can come up with for MLP—of transfer to Macron-Le Pen-abstention/nullified ballots—are: Fillon 30-50-20, Mélenchon 40-20-40, Hamon 70-5-25, and Dupont-Aignan 5-80-15, which would yield a 52-48 Macron victory. If this is indeed the result, there will, needless to say, be no Sunday night party for Macron at La Rotonde, or anywhere else.

In point of fact, the transfers are more likely to be on the order of FF 45-35-20, JLM 50-10-40, BH 87-3-10, NDA 10-70-20 = Macron 59-41. As for Fillon’s voters, a good third—notably the Sens Commun crowd and diehard, identity-obsessed Sarkozystes—are sure to vote for Marine. More are likely to hold their noses and vote Macron, however, as (a) voters of the right tend to be legitimist and will thus follow the consignes of the party’s leaders (only the most réac among them—Laurent Wauquiez, Eric Ciotti et al—have declined to explicitly recommend a vote for Macron), and (b) the majority of LR voters, albeit conservative, reject the FN and what it represents, and notably its position on Europe. Fillon’s voters, pour mémoire, disproportionately hail from the bourgeoisie; they own property, have assets, and thus much to lose financially in the event of a Frexit—or simply from the instability, indeed chaos, that would inevitably follow an Marine LP victory.

As for Marine’s announcement this weekend that she would finally not seek to quit the euro, at least not right away, this was certainly taken with fence-sitting Fillon voters in mind (plus to accommodate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan; more on that below). But it almost defies belief that any person with half an intellect—and Fillon’s voters tend to be in the CSP+ category, thus educated—could be taken in by Marine’s revirement. This has to be the biggest flip-flop in French electoral history, if not in the entire Western world. Quitting Europe has been a cornerstone of FN doctrine—of its entire world-view—since the party’s inception. Marine, in one fell swoop, has caused the whole edifice to come crashing down. Her entire economic program is predicated on a Frexit. Without the latter, she will be unable to implement a single significant economic measure she proposes, not to mention measures in other domains, e.g. on restricting migration from other EU countries. Amazing. Polls later in the week will indicate if her gambit has helped her. I will be most surprised if it does.

Art Goldhammer thinks that Marine’s euro ploy is an act of desperation, perhaps taken in panicked reaction to bad internal polls. This is not my interpretation. The FN has known for a while that Europe and the euro are secondary issues for its hardcore base, not to mention redhibitory ones for conservative LR voters it needs to win over. Marine’s inner circle also privately admits—and this has been reported in the press—that she’s not going to win the election this year; the FN is playing the long game, with 2022 the objective. So the goal in this one is to make it to the mid 40s, which, as mentioned above, would be a huge symbolic victory for the FN and put it in good position to win dozens of seats in the legislative election. In the wake of the inevitable LR crack-up, the FN would become the dominant party on the right and pole of opposition to the banquier-president Macron (on the FN’s demonization of Macron-as-banker, see Renaud Dély’s spot on commentary in Marianne). And if Macron’s presidency fails—and the quinquennat is almost guaranteed to render the occupant of the Elysée unpopular—then the choice in ’22, from the FN’s standpoint, will be clear. So Marine’s about-face on the euro is less a Hail Mary pass than a long bomb (American football metaphor), to advance the FN’s field position.

On Nicolas Dupont-Aignan rallying to MLP, this is significant IMO, as it’s the first breach—along with Christine Boutin—since the mid 1980s in the mainstream right’s FN firewall. NDA’s Debout la France may not represent much—NDA is its only national elected official—but it’s still part of the paysage politique—no less so than EELV on the left in membership and veritable electoral weight—and has billed itself as the true heir of classic Gaullism. And NDA is smart and a very good speaker (I’ve seen him). As for Marine’s announcing that NDA will be her prime minister, this confirms what I predicted back in February, that if elected, Marine will appoint a non-FN politico to Matignon. Will NDA’s ralliement impress LR voters? Social media is being inundated with his past declarations trashing the FN and the Le Pen family, and how he would never enter into an alliance with the extreme right. The opportunism is admittedly a little brazen. La ficelle est un peu grosse…

On the transfer of votes from Jean-Luc Mélenchon: I have been bashing JLM almost daily on social media over the past week (e.g. herehere, and here), over his iniquitous refusal to explicitly call for a vote against Marine Le Pen, so am not going to do so here. Henri Weber advanced the most plausible explanation in the Huffpost the other day of JLM’s motives (it has to do with keeping his base intact for the legislative elections, which JLM essentially confirmed in his half-hour YouTube monologue with this fans). All I can say is that JLM is pissing off a lot of people on the left who otherwise don’t dislike him politically (as do I) and, in the view of more than a few, is compromising his credibility as a future leader of the opposition to a president Macron. On verra ça.

As for his voters on April 23rd, they are divided roughly into thirds: of PS voters who jumped on the JLM bandwagon as he surged in the polls, voters from the constituent components of the Front de Gauche (PCF, Ensemble etc), and the radical left. Hardly any of JLM’s voters will cast an affirmative ballot for Macron but the first two of these three cohorts will, in their great majority, vote for him to block Marine LP, as did the left in 2002 in the “front républicain” against her father. The PCF, Cégétistes, and other militants de gauche with a culture politique will do what they have to do to stop the Front National. The problem is la gauche radicale, of mainly younger voters without a culture politique or historical consciousness. This is the French equivalent of fanaticized Bernie Sanders supporters who equated Clinton and Trump and either voted for Jill Stein or abstained. There’s not a whole lot to be done about them. Unfortunately their numbers could involve a third, or even more, of JLM transfer votes.

If Macron is politically smart, he’ll make a concrete gesture toward the first two components of JLM’s voters—left-wing PS and Front de Gauche—between now and the weekend, e.g. in declaring that he will not have the Code du Travail modified by ordonnance, that this will happen solely via ordinary legislation. This would go a long way to attenuating the deep distrust toward him on the left. And Macron really does need the left, as more of his votes come from that side of the political spectrum than from the other (on this, see Jérôme Jaffré in Le Figaro last week). His performance in Amiens at the Whirlpool factory last Wednesday—and in countering MLP’s publicity stunt—ended up as a plus in his column (on this, see Thomas Legrand’s editorial on Thursday and this analysis—and with a great headline—from France 24).

I wrote about Macron’s Bercy rally two weeks ago and my reservations about him as a speaker. Last Thursday he was interviewed on TF1 for over an hour. In this format—in a tête-à-tête, talking about policy—he is quite simply excellent. He’s like Hillary Clinton but faster on his feet—if that’s possible—and talks at a faster clip. And he demonstrates complete command of the issues. But then, one would hardly expect less from an énarque/Inspecteur de Finance. On Wednesday night Macron and Le Pen will debate for two-and-a-half hours face-to-face. Prediction: Macron will demolish her. I don’t see how it will be otherwise. When MLP tries to explain her plan to reintroduce the franc as a parallel currency to the euro and proceed to implement the FN’s economic schemes, Macron will cut her into little pieces. The only way she will avoid total humiliation is if Macron commits a gaffe—which is not out of the question—or is perceived by the TV audience to be an overbearing jerk, which is also possible. But I’m banking on an annihilation. On verra mercredi soir.

The Turkish tragedy

Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

[update below]

It’s been two weeks since the Turkish referendum, on which I have not had a single post. I normally would have but (a) have been majorly distracted by the French presidential campaign, (b) find what’s happening in Turkey so tragic—and so personally painful, as Turkey is a country I know and love—that I can hardly bear to even read about it, and (c) have nothing particularly original to say. Whatever commentary I would have to offer has already been offered by numerous others who spend more of their waking hours focusing on Turkey than do I. In commenting on an event or happening like this, I simply refer the reader to analyses by specialists and other observers sur le terrain that I find particularly interesting. I’ve read a few good pieces on the referendum over the past two weeks but will link to just one, by my friend Claire Berlinski, published in The American Interest on April 24th, on Turkey and how democracies die. Claire is a great writer, knows the subject comme sa poche, and what she has to say is 100% on target. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: Claire has a post (May 1st) on the Ricochet blog, “From Turkey: We’re not dead yet,” that is well worth the read.

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

It was a big ouf de soulagement at 8pm last night, when the two 2nd round qualifiers were projected on the TV screen, based on exit polls and the count from sample polling stations that had closed an hour earlier. I was confident through the day that Emmanuel Macron would make it but got a little nervous as 8pm approached. I will offer no deep analysis here—for that, see the hot takes by Arthur Goldhammer and John Judis—just a few takeaways and random thoughts. Voilà.

Random thought 1: The 2nd round will take place on May 7th and, in the interval, there will be a campaign and debate (on May 3rd), but the outcome is a foregone conclusion: Macron is going to win. Sure, there is a statistical possibility—10%, 20%, whatever—that Marine Le Pen could pull it off but, objectively speaking, she has no chance. The IPSOS exit poll last night has Macron beating Le Pen 62-38, i.e. by 24 points. The spread will likely narrow over the next two weeks—maybe even into the low teens—but not by enough to make it a horse race. As for the transfer of votes from the losing candidates, here are IPSOS’s numbers

Half of François Fillon’s voters, the majority of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s, and the great majority of Benoît Hamon’s will vote for Macron—not because they are enamored with him but to block Marine. As Hamon put it in his concession speech last night, between a “political adversary” and an “enemy of the republic,” the choice is clear. A third of Fillon’s voters say they will vote for Marine but most Macron-allergic JLM and Hamon supporters will abstain or nullify their ballots.

Despite these hard numbers, there are sure to be click-bait articles in the Anglo-American media on a possible Le Pen surprise. On this, Princeton University political scientist Andrew Moravcsik had a pertinent comment on Facebook last night:

As predicted, the French held firm. This is an election that, barring death or calamity, Le Pen cannot win. This is not “within the margin of error” stuff like Trump or Brexit; she is down almost 2:1 in the second round. This supports my ranting over the past months about the incredible waste of journalistic time writing (and therefore spoon feeding us to read) about worst-case scenarios in France. If we had a Euro for every article globally talking about how well Le Pen was doing, with a sentence in paragraph 20 adding, “Oh, by the way, she cannot win the second round against any of the three others,” we could put a significant dent in global poverty. Typical of the press’s tendency to highlight the sensational, focus on irrelevancies, and, in the process, misleadingly talk down Europe.

As for the specious Trump/Brexit parallel, I have been pushing back against this for weeks. But if one doesn’t want to listen me, take it from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, who informed his readers last night that “Marine Le Pen is in a much deeper hole than Trump ever was.” Je n’ai plus rien à dire sur ce sujet.

Random thought 2: Related to the above, French polling institutes got it right. So much for speculation on possible “herding“—and from the very same Nate Silver. There were no real surprises, except perhaps for Hamon’s lower than expected score. And the five to six point drop in MLP’s score over the past six weeks was real (for the official national results, go here). Several polling institutes, including IPSOS, had speculated on a drop in participation—with abstention possibly reaching, or even surpassing, 30%—but this finally did not happen. The participation rate was 77.7%—one-and-a-half points lower than 2012 but in the normal range for presidential 1st rounds.

Random thought 3: One of the many reasons why Marine LP has no chance of winning on May 7th is because she has no allies. The Front National has never had allies. And without allies, it is impossible for right-wing populist candidates to win national elections. One of the academic specialists of the subject—it was Cas Mudde or Jan-Werner Müller—wrote recently that populists or fascists have only been able to come to power electorally in a coalition—explicit or tacit—with a sizable mainstream conservative party, or by taking over, absorbing, or being the candidate of such a party (e.g. Trump in the US, Erdoğan in Turkey, Modi in India). If there’s a cordon sanitaire around a radical right-wing populist party, that party will remain in the political ghetto indefinitely (e.g. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands). Last night every tenor of the LR party without exception, and led by Fillon, endorsed Macron. LR will simply not deal with the FN and on any level. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said that he would make his intentions known later but he represents only himself.

Random thought 4. Emmanuel Macron’s imminent propulsion to the summit of the French state is quite amazing when one thinks about it. As one likely knows by now, almost no one had heard of him before he was appointed minister of the economy in 2014. Serious presidential candidates in France are not supposed to come out of nowhere. This is the kind of thing that happens in America, e.g. Jimmy Carter in 1976, not France. In 1992 a leading French political scientist—who had taught in the US and spoke perfect English—scoffed to me about Bill Clinton’s nomination, thinking it ridiculous that a governor from an obscure state like Arkansas could go straight to the White House; he snorted that it would be like the president of  the Conseil Régional of the Limousin or Poitou-Charentes trying to be Président de la République. C’est pas possible! In the past, the upper tier of the French political class rejuvenated at a glacial pace, or so it seemed. The stable of credible presidential candidates in the 1990s was about the same as in the 1980s, or even the ’70s. Things evolved with Ségolène Royal in 2007 but even she was a known personality then, who had been around for a while. How France has changed. It’s becoming even more Americanized than America…

American University of Paris professor Oleg Kobtzeff had a Facebook comment last night on Macron that I like:

Rien de nouveau dans le phénomène Macron. C’est un remake de Lecanuet en 1965 ou de Giscard en 1974, mais avec l’air intello (légèrement) de gauche et à la fois cadre dynamique comme… JJSS — un Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber mais qui va réussir. Mélenchon à 19%? C’est le retour des communistes à la tête de la gauche comme du temps de Maurice Thorez, Waldek-Rochet ou Jacques Duclos.

Mélenchon is, in point of fact, not a communist but one gets the analogy.

Random thought 5: As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he revealed his abject ignominiousness in his surly address last night at 10:00, in implicitly equating Le Pen and Macron, and refusing to endorse the latter. He claimed that he had no right to take a position without consulting with the 450,000 members of La France Insoumise, as he is merely their obedient servant and it is up to them. So this Fidel-Chávez wannabe will submit to the masses, who will reveal their choice via internet tomorrow. What leadership. Even JLM’s allies in the comatose Front de Gauche, e.g. the PCF’s Pierre Laurent and Clémentine Autain of Ensemble, have, in calling for a massive vote to bar the route to Le Pen, backhandedly endorsed Macron. Quel connard, Mélenchon.

Random thought 6: The last three legislative elections, which immediately followed the presidential, have been afterthoughts, as it was a foregone conclusion that the party of the victor in May would win a majority in the national assembly in June. Not this time. There will be five/six-way races in most constituencies, with candidates of En Marche!, FN, LR-UDI, PS-EELV, and FI/FDG (running together or separately). The number of triangulaires is sure to be high and with the outcome up in the air. EM! should, in principle, have the momentum in the wake in Macron’s victory but many of its candidates will be rank unknowns and the historic parties of government—LR-UDI and the PS—will throw everything they have into electing a sizable bloc of deputies, to oblige President Macron to deal with him—even enter into a coalition government—and for their own survival. In other words, the legislative elections—on June 11th and 18th—will be as important as the presidential. And they’ll be wide open. More on this at a later date.

À la prochaine.

UPDATE: Demographer Hervé Le Bras and France Info (via Art Goldhammer) have provided excellent electoral maps here and here. Le Bras’s analysis is, as usual, most interesting.

2nd UPDATE: The following academic specialists of France have postmortem analyses of the 1st round: Hugo Drochon (Cambridge), Emile Chabal (Edinburgh), Mabel Berezin (Cornell), Yascha Mounk (Harvard), David A. Bell (Princeton), and Harold James (Princeton). The latter three focus in particular on Emmanuel Macron. See also the interview with Gaël Brustier—who issues from the left/republican wing of the PS—on Macron.

3rd UPDATE: The Financial Times’s Janan Ganesh has an intriguing column, “Macron shows how political talent can trump the zeitgeist.” The lede: “For liberals the way back to power can happen in a flash with a class act.”

In my post yesterday I wrote that I would probably be in a state of terror this evening, meditating on a possible calamitous outcome in tomorrow’s vote. Well, it is now the evening and while not serene, I am not fretting or wringing my hands. The calm before the hurricane? On the possible impact of Thursday night’s terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysées, an Odoxa poll partly taken Friday—when the attack was dominating the news—revealed a 1% increase in Marine Le Pen’s score and a 0.5% drop for the other top contenders, and with an uptick for Marine in Friday’s numbers compared to those collected by the institute on Thursday before the attack. The final BVA poll, partly taken on Friday, showed no change in MLP’s score, however. As the attack is not leading the news today and the official campaign ended at midnight last night—so no possibility for MLP to demagogue and whip up fear the day before voters go to the polls—one may wager that it will have no appreciable effect on the result.

Another cause for relative calm is the stability in the polls: of the fifteen taken over the past week, thirteen have had Emmanuel Macron in the lead, one with him and MLP tied, and one with MLP leading by half a point. The stability has caused Nate Silver and Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight—who think this not normal—to wonder about possible “herding” by the polling institutes, though The Economist magazine deems it unlikely that French pollsters would be cooking their numbers. If they are, I’d be surprised; of the nine institutes doing horse race polls, six have been around for a while, i.e. decades, and have track records. And the political pollsters of two of the top institutes, Brice Teinturier (IPSOS) and Jérôme Fourquet (IFOP), are regulars on TV and radio, where they are periodically asked to explain their methodologies. If the polling numbers are all in the same range, maybe it’s because that’s where they really are. And the track record of French pollsters has indeed been fairly good over time, though, in a multi-candidate race, there will inevitably be at least one surprise: e.g. in 2012, it was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who underperformed his final poll numbers; in 2007, it was Nicolas Sarkozy (over) and Jean-Marie Le Pen (under). In tomorrow’s vote, there will no doubt be at least one surprise and possibly by up to three points.

There are six configurations, all of which are possible. I will rank order them, from what I consider to be the most likely to the least:

1. Macron-Fillon. This will be the surprise, with François Fillon finishing second, ahead of Marine Le Pen. In this scenario, there are is a “shy” Fillon vote out there, of older voters—who privilege his experience and nerves of steel—and others on the right, who have been disgusted with Fillon and his affaires but finally feel they have no other choice. And that Fillon electorate is there. On this, see the essay by Hugo Drochon, who teaches politics at the University of Cambridge, in Project Syndicate, posted two days before Le Canard Enchaîné broke the first affaire. If this scenario comes to pass, Macron will win in a walk.

2. Macron-Le Pen. If polls are predictions—which they’re not—this will be it. In the 2nd round, EM destroys MLP.

3. Le Pen-Fillon. Macron majorly underperforms and Fillon the opposite, with disaster the consequence, as the French electorate will be presented with a choice between two deeply unpopular personalities, indeed the most unpopular in the French political class. And for the left it will be a catastrophe, of the reactionary right vs. the extreme right. The perversity of the French two-round system will be laid bare. Hypothetical 2nd round match-ups have had Fillon defeating Le Pen handily but I’m not so sure. I will personally hold my nose and vote Fillon but many voters on the left will not do this. They will vote blanc/nul or abstain. Harvard University government lecturer Yascha Mounk, in his “A primer on the French election: Four candidates, three nightmare scenarios” in Slate, summed up the matter

The prospect that Fillon might face Le Pen in the second round is terrifying for two reasons: First, there is every reason to think that he might lose. And second, even if he did win, he would make a terrible president—close to the Kremlin, regressive on social issues, pursuing an unimaginative course of cuts without investment in the economy, and entering office under the stinking cloud of an ongoing investigation for corruption.

Further down, Mounk asserts

The election of Fillon would strengthen Putin’s hand, give French voters even better reason to conclude that their country’s political class is controlled by the corrupt and the self-serving, and deepen popular disenchantment with democracy.

The election of Fillon, who is damaged goods if there ever were any—and for whom many will cast their votes solely to block the even worse Marine Le Pen—would be so very bad for France. Yesterday I ran into a recent former student of mine, who is a salaried legislative assistant of the LR party. He told me that he is so revolted by Fillon and his affaires that he would not be able to vote for him in the 1st round. And he wasn’t alone, so he said. If he, as an LR activist, feels this way, one can imagine the attitude of those outside the base of that party. I rest my case.

4. Macron-Mélenchon. If nothing else, this would make for an epic 2nd round debate. My choice is obvious but quite a few people I know on the left would vote JLM. EM would win easily, though. I wouldn’t mind this scenario at all.

5. Le Pen-Mélenchon. Everyone’s nightmare scenario. The specter of this is so terrifying that I can’t even contemplate what would happen the next day—financial markets, general hysteria in France and Europe—not to mention over the subsequent two weeks. As I’ve already written, I will vote Mélenchon: anyone and anything to block Marine LP, but also with the utter certainty that he would not obtain a majority in the June legislative elections, and thus not be able to implement any of his hare-brained schemes. As for who would win the 2nd round: six months ago I would have said MLP but today, no doubt JLM.

6. Fillon-Mélenchon. The least likely scenario but no less nightmarish to contemplate. If this comes to pass, I will nullify my ballot, i.e. rip it in two (there will be two ballots, actually—one for each candidate—so two to rip). I may loathe JLM but will not vote for the unspeakable Fillon to stop him. And there is no way I will vote JLM to block a corrupt right-wing candidate but who will not pull France out of the European Union. If any lefties out there need arguments against JLM at this point, see the commentaries by Nathalie Nougayrède, Elie Cohen, Guillaume Duval, Jean-Pierre Filiu, Henri Weber, and Marcel Sel that I’ve posted on social media over the past few days. Who would win this one? I have no idea. It could go either way.

My crap shoot prediction:

Macron: 23
Fillon: 22
Le Pen: 21
Mélenchon: 17
Hamon: 9
Dupont-Aignan: 3.5
Poutou: 1.5
Lassalle: 1
Arthaud: <1
Asselineau: <1
Cheminade: <1

Participation rate: 77%

À demain.

Emmanuel Macron, Paris, April 17th (photo: Le Temps)

PREFACE: This post was largely written before last night’s terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysées, which is naturally dominating the news today and leading to all sorts of speculation as to the consequences for Sunday’s vote, and with nervous nellies—mainly non-French—fretting that it could boost Marine Le Pen’s chances. The only thing to say about this is that France has experienced numerous terrorist attacks over the past three decades and with none moving the polls in one direction or another. E.g. the Mohamed Merah killings in Montauban and Toulouse in March 2012—one month before the 1st round of the 2012 presidential election—had no effect on the race—and, moreover, did not even cause a momentary uptick in tough guy President Sarkozy’s numbers. The 2015 regional elections may be a partial exception to this, with political scientist Pascal Perrineau saying at the time that the November 13th atrocity three/four weeks earlier increased the Front National’s score by up to three points. But November 13th was a huge attack and that traumatized the entire French nation, regional councils are mostly powerless bodies that the vast majority of citizens never think about, and elections to them are low participation affairs—50% in the 2015 1st round and 59% in the 2nd—and outlets for throw-away protest votes against the incumbent party at the national level. And in 2015, the FN’s historic score in the 1st round provoked a mobilization of anti-FN voters in the 2nd, resulting in the party not winning a single council. Last night’s attack does play into themes that Marine Le Pen has been hammering away at and could possibly move some voters she’s been losing over the past month back into her column. If any candidate does benefit from the attack—and I emphasize if—it will, however, more likely be François Fillon. But that’s idle speculation and that I will engage in no more of. On verra dimanche soir.

On the race, the final polls are coming in and all show stability, with Emmanuel Macron narrowly in first, Marine Le Pen a close second—but losing ground—and François Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on her heels and tied for third, and all four within the margin of error. This thing could go any which way—with six possible configurations, three of which are calamitous—and with any prediction at this stage a crap shoot in view of the exceptional number of undecideds and uncertainty over the participation rate. Everyone is fretting, nervous, or downright worried. Speaking for myself, by tomorrow night I’ll probably be in a state of terror contemplating the prospect of one of the three calamitous configurations materializing the next day.

As for those calamitous configurations, they are the 2nd round match-ups that do not include Emmanuel Macron.

Macron had his big Paris rally on Monday afternoon (Easter Monday, so a public holiday) and which I attended. It was at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy—formally branded the AccorHotels Arena—which is the largest indoor arena in the city. The turnout was impressive. My friend and I wanted to be in the fosse (standing-room pit in front of the stage), so we could walk around and take photos, but after waiting in line for almost an hour, were turned away, informed that the fosse was reserved for En Marche! activists (wearing orange bracelets), so we had to sit in the upper deck, making it difficult to take good photos (particularly with my not terrific Galaxy A5) and my friend, who has a high-end camera (with telephoto lens and all), was not allowed to bring it in—security at Bercy is draconian—which was a disappointment. So no photo album for this rally. Just this one pic, taken a couple of minutes after Macron mounted the stage and with the audience on its feet.

Some observations on the rally, which crystallized much of the Macron campaign: It was stage-managed to a far higher degree than any other such political event I’ve attended in this country. First, the mere fact that the fosse was reserved for activists, and who were, moreover, seated, so no fluidity or moving about. And the lower decks, which were mainly occupied by activists wearing En Marche! t-shirts, and roughly grouped by color (yellow, orange, blue). It looked good from a distance, and no doubt on television. Cf. the Benoît Hamon rally a month ago, which was more laid back. There were also more people at Hamon’s rally, as Macron’s had a much larger stage and in the middle of the fosse—with four teleprompters, so he could move about while doing his televangelist-like act—thereby reducing the number of people who could get in there (I’d say 17,000 people were in the arena, compared to 20K for Hamon).

Second, Macron arrived at precisely 5:00 and spoke for precisely an hour-and-a-half. Impeccably choreographed. The crowd was enthusiastic, as one could expect, but, from my vantage point at least, I didn’t find the overall atmosphere as electric as the Hamon rally. As for the audience, it was in the image of Macron: that portion of France that is educated and part of the global economy—and for the young people there, who will soon be part of that economy. That’s Macron’s base. I tried to determine, in the audience reactions during his speech, if they were politically more to the left or right. As his oblique references to Fillon and Le Pen aroused the loudest boos—and particularly his dig at Sens Commun—this would suggest that his hardcore fans are not, in their majority, habitual voters of the LR party. Indirect references to Hamon and Mélenchon—e.g. the line about turning France into a “Venezuela without oil” and “Cuba without the sun”—did not provoke the same negativity from the crowd.

As for Macron’s speech, the first half of it was vaporous. He’s a good enough speaker—though I will rank him below Mélenchon and Hamon—but can talk for minutes on end without saying anything in particular, or nothing that anyone remembers. The second half of the speech, which focused on his vision for France, was better (for the whole thing, go here). He thankfully did not present a laundry list of policy proposals but rather sought to give an idea of what one could expect with him in power. It was classic Macron: un coup à droite, un coup à gauche. Numerous phrases contained buzzwords appealing to right and left alike, e.g. “entreprise” and “réussite” (success) to impress the right—and  “equality” and “solidarity” to reassure the left. And all in the same sentence. And invoking De Gaulle and Mitterrand, and in the same breath, as great leaders of the past and from whom he draws inspiration (which is actually not reassuring, but that’s another matter).

I’ve been wanting to like Macron, as I desperately hope he is elected on May 7th—There Is No Alternative: it’s him or the deluge—but it’s not always easy. His youth, political inexperience, and incessant triangulating—of trying to be too many things to too many people—causes him to make avoidable mistakes. E.g. saying in his JDD interview two weeks ago that he would reform the Code du Travail by ordonnance (i.e. modify the labor code by executive decree). This is both bad policy and terrible politics. The Code du Travail is one of the hottest potatoes in the French political system and any reform of it needs to be preceded by a public debate—however conflictual that may be—and a vote in parliament. Changing it by presidential ukase will cause the left to hate him, and Macron needs as much of the left as he can possibly get. But enraging the unions—even those otherwise well-disposed toward him (CFDT, CFTC)—and voters on the left will win him nothing on the right, as not a single Fillon voter is going to defect to him on account of this alone. It was a stupid rookie error and that he has had to partially walk back. And he said nothing about it in his Bercy speech.

There are other problems with Macron—notably in the (Gaullist/Mitterrandian) way he says he will govern—which I’ll take up next week (assuming he qualifies for the 2nd round). But there are some very positive, compelling features of his candidacy and which counteract the drawbacks, one being his sunny optimism for France and its future. Macron’s discourse is devoid of demagoguery, dark pessimism, or apocalyptic depictions of present-day France and the world (cf. the other three top contenders). If Barack Obama had not trademarked “Yes we can!,” it would be the ideal motto for the Macron campaign. Macron projects positivity, and smiles while he’s at it. Macron believes in France and its ability to prosper and thrive in a globalized world.  And, as one knows, he is the most pro-Europe candidate and whose election will thrill France’s EU partners. Among many other things, a President Macron will surely increase French influence in the European Council. Macron represents change—a rejuvenation of the French political class, which voters say they want—but without wreaking havoc. C’est-à-dire, il ne va foutre le bordel. Again, cf. the other three contenders.

Leaving the Bercy arena, my friend—sociologist Didier Le Saout, who is on the left and not a Macron fan de la première heure—said to me, “Can you imagine what this presidential race would be if Macron weren’t there?” We would have nothing but awful choices. Hamon would no doubt be higher in the polls but, as the candidate of the discredited PS, would have no chance. And it’s not clear that François Bayrou on a fourth try would have generated the same dynamic that Macron has. So alhamdulillah الحَمْد لله for Emmanuel Macron.

Didier Le Saout has sent me his reflections on the rally and the Macron phenomenon. Le voici:

 Le projet social-libéral d’Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron veut définitivement casser l’image partagée dans les représentations politiques françaises du libéralisme emprunt de valeurs de droite. En déclarant en 2015 que le « libéralisme est une valeur de gauche », il se montre préoccupé de voir son projet légitimé par la gauche. De son point de vue, cette dernière porte le mieux la dimension culturelle ou sociétale du libéralisme pour défendre et étendre les droits et libertés des individus. A cet égard, la reconnaissance du « mariage pour tous » sous la présidence de François Hollande s’accorde parfaitement avec son projet d’émanciper les individus du joug de la tradition et de la religion. Ces mêmes valeurs libérales de la vie en société sont revendiquées haut et fort par ses partisans. Lorsque dans son grand meeting parisien du 17 avril 2017, deux hommes puis deux femmes vêtus du teeshirt du mouvement En marche sont filmés en s’embrassant sur les grands écrans de la salle, ils sont applaudis sous les hourras des 20 000 participants.

Mais Macron n’entend pas cantonner son projet à un univers de représentations perçues comme de gauche. La référence faite au libéralisme culturel et sociétal ancré à gauche lui permet de faire un pont avec un modèle de « société libérale avancée » tel que prôné par d’autres courants de la droite. Ceci lui vaut d’être dénoncé par la gauche comme ne proposant qu’un relooking de la politique menée par l’ancien président Valéry Giscard d’Estaing qui dans les années 1970 avait abaissé l’âge de la majorité de 21 à 18 ans, légalisé l’avortement et permis de divorcer par consentement mutuel. Ne critiquant pas le capitalisme, le projet de Macron montrerait alors ses limites selon ses détracteurs.

Revendiquant un libéralisme politique articulé sur des dimensions culturelles et sociales, Macron en appelle alors à la morale pour se distinguer du libéralisme thatchérien. Il ne se prive pas de mettre en garde des patrons d’entreprises publiques et privées contre les excès de leurs rémunérations montrant ainsi que l’Etat peut indiquer aux entrepreneurs le juste chemin à suivre. De la même façon, il met en garde des risques d’exclusion que pourrait induire le libéralisme. Ce n’est encore pas un hasard si durant ce même meeting parisien du 17 avril il fait référence à Philippe Séguin, l’inspirateur du fameux discours de Jacques Chirac durant sa campagne électorale de 1995 sur la « fracture sociale ». Si personne ne doit rester sur le bord de la route, il n’importe pas selon Macron de renforcer les dispositifs d’aides sociales mais de permettre à chacun de pouvoir bénéficier d’une formation tout au long de la vie. La nécessité de parvenir par la loi à une « moralisation de la vie publique » et au renouvellement des élus prolonge encore ces exigences morales dans le système politique.

En bref, Macron défend un libéralisme politique articulé sur des dimensions culturelles et sociales pour encadrer la vertu créatrice et l’envie de réussir tout en ne remettant pas en question le rôle de l’Etat et encore moins du capitalisme. En cela, son projet peut résolument être considéré comme social-libéral.

The Macron rally over (at 6:40), Didier and I took the metro to Porte de Pantin, to Marine Le Pen’s rally at the Zénith, which was scheduled to begin at 8:00.

The above photo, taken by me, is of the end of MLP’s speech, with all the FN’s heavyweights (Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Gilbert Collard et al) on the stage, and in what was the one festive-like moment of the rally. Otherwise, it was a horror show, by far the darkest—both figuratively and literally (the lighting in the arena was somber)—political event I have witnessed in France, indeed anywhere. I attended Marine’s rally in 2012—five years prior to the day—also at the Zénith, which I had a post on and with dozens of pics. The Zénith is not the largest arena in Paris—seating 6,300 and with no fosse—so the mere fact that MLP held her rally there, despite flying high in the polls, signified that the FN didn’t think it could fill a larger hall. And it didn’t even this one: whereas it as was full to capacity in 2012, this time there were empty seats in the upper rows. The turnout was likely on the order of 5,500. Not terrific for a candidate who, it has been assumed until lately, is a shoo-in for the 2nd round.

I thought the 2012 rally was a success for Marine and that she gave a good speech. Not this time. First, the production values of the event were poor: In addition to the somber lighting, there was no music before things got going and the two warm-up speakers were duds (one I hadn’t even heard of—I didn’t catch his name—and campaign spokesman and Fréjus mayor David Rachline, who’s 29-years-old but looks and acts like he’s 50). As for Marine’s speech, it was an hour-and-forty-minute diatribe and from the get go: against immigration, migrants, terrorism, radical Islam (when not just Islam tout court), crime, globalization, global financiers… in short, against all the FN’s boogeymen and everything it fears and/or hates. Adding to this were her vituperative attacks on Fillon, Macron, and Mélenchon, all referred to by name and with the hall booing loudly. It was an orgy of red meat thrown to the crowd, which devoured it all. There were moments when the entire hall was in a frenzy. It was an unpleasant ambiance. A Turkish Kurdish activist friend of Didier’s, who’s settled in France and wanted to see an FN rally with his own eyes, came along with us; he was visibly uncomfortable throughout—and not at all reassured by a man sitting near us who continually bellowed “Islam hors de France!” (Islam out of France!), and another who, likely observing that we were not applauding—and were maybe journalists, another target of FN hate—tried to goad us at a couple of points (we ignored him). As Didier was allowed to bring in his camera, he took photos—which are a lot better than mine—some of which he put into an album that may be viewed here.

At the 2012 rally, Marine flashed smiles at the crowd; this time she was febrile, indeed tense. As for an explanation as to why she was on edge, her campaign has been preoccupied, even alarmed, of late by her loss of five to seven points in the polls over the past month and Mélenchon’s sudden surge, at least some of which is coming at her expense. And also by Fillon’s doggedness and the hard right lurch of his campaign. It has gone without saying that Marine would qualify for the 2nd round but that is now not looking 100% certain. An IFOP-Fiducial-JDD-Sud Radio poll taken earlier this month showed that FN voters are concerned above all with immigration, terrorism, and crime—the FN’s historic stock-in-trade—and less so with Europe and the euro (which MLP largely ignored in her speech). Thus Marine’s virulence on Monday night. The return to fundamentals. She was whipping up the base. And so much for de-demonization. During her diatribe, I leaned over to Didier and said “Je la trouve particulièrement facho ce soir” (I’m finding her particularly fascistic this evening). The reaction in the media the next day—plus a Facebook exchange with Time Magazine’s Vivienne Walt, who was also at the rally—indicated that I was not alone in my sentiment.

So it’s definitive: It’s the same old Front National. The FN has not changed at all. And it never will. It will thus not rule France: not this year, or in 2022, or ever.

Another party that, beginning next month, won’t be in power for a long time—if ever again—is the Parti Socialiste. Benoît Hamon had his final Paris rally on Wednesday, at the Place de la République. The event started at 5:00, with speeches by a panoply of high-profile Hamon supporters (e.g. Thomas Piketty and other stars), a keynote by Hamon, and then a concert with various groups scheduled to go to midnight.

I arrived at 7:30, while Hamon was speaking. There were several thousand people in the square, who were enthusiastic enough, but the square was not full. It was, in effect, Hamon’s farewell speech. I feel for him, as no one anticipated the plunge in the polls—and into the single digits no less—and particularly after the success of his March 19th Bercy rally. And he faces humiliation on Sunday. He finished the speech at 8:00, after which most of the crowd left the square, with not too many remaining for the music. I found some friends there and, as it was quite cold—in the 40s F/8°C and windy—we took refuge in a nearby bar. I wonder if the event didn’t end early. Triste fin de campagne. Didier Le Saout was there and took a few photos, which may be viewed here.

I’ll have an election eve post tomorrow.

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