"Avez-vous déjà écrit votre article sur notre élection ... démente?" a former government minister wrote me the other day. A demented election indeed. I have never witnessed a crazier one. But today is shaping up to be the craziest day of all. The ...

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"French Politics" - 5 new articles

  1. Frondeur frondé, Fillon filet
  2. First They Came for the Workers ...
  3. To the Lifeboats!
  4. Macron: "Irrational" or "Rational"
  5. Has Macron Stopped the Bleeding?
  6. More Recent Articles

Frondeur frondé, Fillon filet

"Avez-vous déjà écrit votre article sur notre élection ... démente?" a former government minister wrote me the other day. A demented election indeed. I have never witnessed a crazier one. But today is shaping up to be the craziest day of all. The establishment fronde against the former anti-establishment frondeur Hamon is picking up steam. Prominent Socialists are accusing him of having "hardened" his platform since winning the primary, thereby justifying (or rationalizing) their refusal to support him despite his having won the democratic contest. The breakup of the Socialist Party appears to have been consummated.

Meanwhile, Macron is picking up so many endorsements from former sommités of the right that frictions are developing between leftists and rightists in his entourage. A particular bone of contention involves the naming of former Chirac minister Jean-Paul Delevoye to head the committee to choose En Marche candidates for the legislative elections. Dominique de Villepin and Jean-Louis Borloo are also rumored to have thrown in their lot with Macron. It is as if Marine Le Pen's charge that the two parties of government were really only one, the UMPS, has been made flesh. The power-seeking moths are inevitably drawn to the only candle still burning.

And then comes the news that the Fillon flame may be about to be snuffed out. He abruptly canceled a scheduled visit to the Salon de l'Agriculture, that obligatory passage required of all candidates. Rumor has it that he is about to be mis en examen. He is scheduled to make an announcement imminently.

UPDATE: Fillon announced that he will indeed be mis en examen on March 15, but he is staying in the race nevertheless. He continued his unblinking (and unconvincing) insistence that he is the victim of a conspiracy and has done nothing wrong. It didn't work the first time, and it's unlikely to win him more votes now. I expect him to decline further in the polls. Yet the Republicans, many of whom appeared with him at today's press conference, appear to have decided that there is no alternative to going down with their leader. Behind the scenes the battle for the future leadership is undoubtedly fierce.

UPDATE 2: Bruno Le Maire has resigned as Fillon's foreign policy advisor. He thinks Fillon should have renounced his candidacy because he will be mis en examen. Other desertions have followed.


First They Came for the Workers ...

The Front National, we hear constantly, is now the leading party of the French working class. Apparently it has taken over the peasant class as well. Perhaps it should be renamed the National Farmers and Workers Party. But the working and peasant classes are a declining proportion of the electorate, so the question remains, How many bobos has Marine Le Pen? I keep thinking about that FN chapter at Sciences Po. Harbinger of things to come?

To the Lifeboats!

When the ship sinks, the women and children are supposed to be the first to abandon ship, the officers and crew last. As the Socialist Party sinks, however, the president was among the first to desert: He ostentatiously went to the theater on the night of the great Belle Alliance primary debate and then he embraced the "outsider" candidate Macron at the CRIF dinner, as I noted previously. Now Jean-Marie Le Guen is saying openly that Hamon can't win, so there's no reason to back his candidacy.

It's not difficult to imagine a complete decomposition of the PS after the first round if Macron wins. There will be a mad scramble to jump on his bandwagon and jockey for position ahead of the legislatives, in which it will be in the interest of most Socialist élus to back President Macron. There will be a few exclus, of course, but non-frondeurs will be welcomed with open arms.

Meanwhile, on the left, rumblings of discontent have been heard. Montebourgians are saying that Hamon's people haven't returned their calls. Hamon has been too focused, they say, on courting Mélenchon, who has no use for Montebourg. Now that that courtship is over, perhaps Montebourg's people will be welcomed: Come back, all is forgotten. Except now the candidate is damaged goods.

Meanwhile, the Mélenchoniste hard-core is blaming Hamon for the break-up. Victory could have been his, they say, all he had to do was surrender. A commenter suggested this morning that perhaps Mélenchon should be credited with being a brilliant strategist: recognizing that an alliance with Hamon might have led to a Hamon-Le Pen second round in which Le Pen would have had the advantage, Mélenchon brilliantly averted disaster by irrevocably dividing the left. An analysis that suggests "Pyrrhic victory" should be renamed "Mélenchonian victory."

Macron: "Irrational" or "Rational"

Le Monde today:

Pour aussitôt ajouter qu’Emmanuel Macron avait un « bon programme », dans la droite ligne du quinquennat, mais que le fondateur du mouvement En marche ! était trop « irrationnel », avec ses envolées « christiques ». En résumé, « nous avons le choix entre un candidat qui est un type bien mais avec un programme dingue, ou un dingue avec un programme plutôt bien ! » Et ce ministre, redevenant sérieux, de conclure : « C’est quand même assez atterrant, comme alternative. Qu’est-ce qu’on choisit ? »
Politico on 2/27:
The strategy isn’t without risk, as one of his aides acknowledged. “If you bet on reason in the age of rising populism, right and left, you’ll always find people to say you’re misunderstanding the times,” the aide said.

So which is it? Is Macron the hyperrational technocrat bucking the populist tide or the mystic who takes himself to be the son of de Gaulle and Jesus Christ (when he is actually the "spiritual son" of François Hollande, dixit Hollande himself).

One of the secrets of Macron's success is precisely that his quicksilvery personality is so hard to grasp. On the one hand he's the fast-buck artist who made millions in mergers and acquisitions at Rothschild; on the other hand he's the former assistant to philosopher Paul Ricoeur who excels at the piano and married his French teacher. But above all he's the guy who turned in his maroquin to run for the presidency at age 39 in a situation that would have looked hopeless to anyone else: as a protégé of the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic and architect of policies that had put thousands of opponents into the street, how could he hope to be elected when the president himself couldn't run for re-election? And to make matters worse, Macron had served the previous president, almost as unpopular, so that he could be accused by the FN of being the perfect example of the indistinguishability of right and left, the "UMPS" incarnate, ni droite ni gauche or, as Macron prefers to put it, et droite et gauche.

So he took a huge risk, and risk-takers are in a sense "irrational." At the same time his counsel to the nation is that all the French should become risk-takers. The country has been vitiated by a dearth of animal spirits, he argues. And yet he is an énarque, so one expects that his risks, no matter how immense, are carefully calculated. And no doubt his plunge into politics exemplifies this penchant for "rational" risk-taking. Win or lose, he's a winner. If he loses, he's the only 39-yr-old Rothschild M&A guy who has also been minister of the economy and a presidential candidate. One has no difficulty imagining his bright future in business, where he can amass another few million before returning to politics whenever it suits him. And if he wins ...

De Gaulle said that if you wanted to sell the French on autoroutes, you had to give them poetry. Macron appears to believe that if you want to sell them labor-market reform, you've got to give them evidence that you've been touched by the Saint Esprit. It's not my cup of tea, but it seems to be working for him in a year when more conventional political potions seem to have lost their efficacy. Credit where credit is due. If this be madness, there's method in it.

Has Macron Stopped the Bleeding?

A new poll (h/t Hugo Drochon) shows Macron closing in on Le Pen in round 1 and well ahead of Fillon. This no doubt reflects a strong urge to voter utile on the part of those disappointed by the disunion of the left (see previous post) and motivated primarily by a wish to stop both Fillon and Le Pen. Macron has counted on this dynamic all along. The one thing he could not have foreseen was Juppé's defeat by Fillon, which only reinforces the push toward the center. But the disarray on the left was foreseeable no matter which candidate emerged. Hollande would have been even more divisive and less attractive than Hamon. Valls was dismissed by many as "the Sarkozy of the left." And Montebourg could never have obtained Mélenchon's support.

Two years ago, who would have proposed Macron as the favorite to be the next president of France? No one except Macron himself.

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