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France's presidential race: hardship, misery and extremism

Nobody in France seems to want to become - or to be able to become - president anymore. The imploded political common sense makes it impossible that central compromise candidates can still successfully enter the race today. This intellectual vacuum in political France opens the floodgates for surprise candidates who only have three things in common: France's penchant for statism, the attempt to allow diffuse protest to carry you to victory and everything rounded off by the classic will to power.

 

The Spectator: The provocative writer who could become the next President of France

 

The "great" French journalist Eric Zemmour is one of the most widely noticed, provocative and often persecuted public figures in the country. Now he is considering a pirate-like presidential candidacy that could completely break the corset of the French presidential elections next year.

Last month the news magazine Valeurs Actuelles carried out a poll that Zemmour could win 13 percent of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election. It's more impressive than it seems. In the carnage of the first round of elections, in which up to a dozen candidates could run, 13 percent is more than enough not only to shake President Emmanuel Macron's re-election campaign. It could simultaneously provoke a civil war on the French right and mark the end of the poisonous Le Pen dynasty, while a gateway to power would open for the radical left.

In the end, however, Zemmour might not have enough for the Elyseepalast. But just his presence in the race would devastatingly destabilize the entire election. It is not unlikely that the election will produce a surprise winner, which has already happened in France in the past.

Zemmour is not a traditional politician. However, we do not live in conventional times either. As a relentless chronicler of the national decline, he is best known outside France as the author of “Le Suicide français”, his bitter reckoning against the harmful influence of the old 68ers on the country. For him, the once trendy 1960s French left betrayed France and caused four decades of economic stagnation and social decline.

More conventional and conformist colleagues in the journalism and literature business like to portray him as a racist and fascist, which is underlined by three convictions for hate speech against him. Zemmour wears the convictions like a badge of honor and likes to peddle them. Competitors have tried to drive him out of business by calling advertisers to boycott his television show. Should he actually run for office, then these attempts will undoubtedly increase again. In a way, Zemmour is similar to the American Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who is just as political in his own broadcast as he is repeatedly traded as a possible future presidential candidate.

Zemmour himself looks more like comedian Larry David than Tucker Carlson. He was born in the Paris suburb of Montreuil to a Jewish family who fled Algeria during the War of Independence. He has already been attacked on the street by his more tangible critics, where he recently said in the return coach that young male migrants from Africa and the Middle East were “murderers and rapists”. Nevertheless, he and his co-host Christine Kelly, a remarkably intelligent and competent journalist from Guadaloupe, were able to triple the audience ratings for their program Face à l’info, which is broadcast in prime time on the rough French news channel CNews. The chemistry between the two, a Jewish man and a black woman, contributes significantly to undermining the many allegations of racism against them.

 

Macron's terrible record

 

With or without Zemmour, it is already clear today that the political calculation for the election next year will no longer work out. Macron was in trouble even before Corona. His presidency was damaged by the populist yellow vests movement, as well as by scandalous talk about a relationship with his bodyguard and the failure of his controversial and yet unconvincing economic and pension reforms. His daring project to curtail France's gigantic bureaucratic apparatus was largely rejected.

Macron's catastrophic mismanagement during the pandemic is now noticeably damaging his re-election efforts. In the beginning, Macron made a big show out of it. He appeared on television and grandly pronounced a "declaration of war" on the disease. He linked his person very closely to the course of this war and will therefore inevitably be linked to its costly end. His inability as a crisis manager was extensive and visible to everyone. His brutal everyday restrictions did not work. He sacked his prime minister, who was more popular than himself, and replaced him with Jean Castex. Likewise, his confidence in his beloved EU in sourcing vaccines has been exposed as wishful thinking, although he still claims it was the right decision.

With more than 86,000 deaths, the proud French medical sector was unable to deliver a vaccine, despite Macron attesting its country a leading position in virology worldwide. The grim story behind this failure is just emerging, and it is about feuds among researchers coupled with the ineptitude of the government. At the same time, another horror story about the commitment of management consultants during the crisis needs to be put together: After Macron McKinsey hired for crisis management, France's nursing homes turned into slaughterhouses. Subsequently, the government was unable to organize the delivery of the vaccinations because it was unable to set up a closed cold chain for the transport. Macron, meanwhile, lost himself in collecting political points against the Brexit of Great Britain and agitated against the vaccine developed there by AstraZeneca, which cost numerous people their lives and made him look both petty and incompetent. At the current pace, France's vaccination program will not be completed until mid-2023. And the economic devastation happily continues.

 

Will Macron survive the first round of voting?

 

While there are improvements in infections and deaths in numerous other countries, the situation is deteriorating again in large parts of France, especially in the capital. Paris, the east and south of France are facing new restrictions. The country is facing a second summer with everyday restrictions. This fork leads to French politics opening up, just as it did in 2017, in such a way that a successful challenger for the presidency appears possible.

In the meantime, Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris, spoke up and acted as a vocal arsonist from the left in the face of the restrictions. She calls for the capital to be completely sealed off, thus resisting Macron, who wants to keep Paris largely open. Her statements are also to be seen in the perspective that she wants to challenge Macron in the first round of the presidential election in an alliance with the Greens.

Macron is wounded and he knows it. His fear agenda is more than just a tactic he uses to try to motivate his base, even though he basically doesn't even really have a base of his own. The only argument for him is that he is not an extremist. His immediate problem, however, is no longer beating right-wing extremist Le Pen in the second round of elections. Rather, Macron first has to survive the first round, which even before the talk about Zemmour's candidacy came along like a crazy circus of political hopes and dreams.

In the first round of the two-tier electoral system with up to a dozen candidates, of which only the first two with the most votes make it to the second round, 13 percent is a lot. The comparison might be a bit slow, but Macron's party won just two percent of the vote in last year's local elections. Zemmour, on the other hand, seems to have some kind of magic potion, which gives him votes from both Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National and the traditional conservatives of the middle, the Les Republicains. Could we, with Zemmour, be facing the long-awaited reunification of the French right?

 

Zemmour's weaknesses

 

First of all, the question arises whether Zemmour will really run for office. Is he ready to stand up to Le Pen to steal votes from her on the right? His silence in denying history is telling. According to friends, he is well aware of his weaknesses and hesitates. It's complicated, they say.

Money is a problem. If he announced his candidacy, his lucrative work on television would be over immediately. An election campaign would cost him many millions, and just asking for those millions from his supporters requires an organization that Zemmour does not yet have. He doesn't even have a program. He has spent years working his way through the governments of France, but what he would actually do as president remains vague.

He's tough on immigration and integration, but that's Le Pen's bread and butter business, while Macron himself is already on the right track. Zemmour is not a supporter of the free market economy. He's a statist, he likes big projects, and he's a friend of protectionism. In these areas too, he encounters an oversupply in French politics. On the other hand, with the corona issue, where Macron was so embarrassed, Zemmour does not feel comfortable. His profession is betting against political correctness, and not so much the elaboration of details to combat epidemics.

In contrast, Macron outgrows itself every time it has to announce new bans and curfews. Among other things, he banned the sale of underwear and closed the country's restaurants. On such occasions on television he likes to appear like an undertaker in his black suit and black tie. However, his policy fails spectacularly. The media’s refusal to hold the government publicly accountable has so far been nothing short of appalling. But how long can or will his friends in the media protect him?

The obvious logic of Zemmour's candidacy is that he would at the same time lure voters away from Le Pen's Rassemblement National, whose anti-Semitic and racist roots have not yet been forgotten, and could also attract voters from the French bourgeoisie. Le Pen's supporters, on the other hand, believe that Zemmour's candidacy is nothing more than a gaping block for France's political right, which would open the door to the radical left in the form of Anne Hidalgo.

 

The ball is ready for Zemmour

 

Le Pen is not only hostile to Zemmour's candidacy, but becomes downright hysterical at the idea that anyone could challenge her on her own ground. They see the last polls just ahead of Macron in the first round, but so far they have always started strong and ended weakly. For Macron, it is nothing less than life insurance. In almost no scenario would she be favored over Macron by French second-round voters.

Despite her long-standing failure, she reacts indignantly to requests to finally resign because her name is too toxic to ever be victorious in a second round. Although it is obvious to everyone that she will not win in her life, she still persistently refuses to accept that fate.

Still, Emmanuel Macron seems extremely nervous. He is currently turning sharply to the right on the question of Islam, but his clumsiness could mean that France will be preoccupied with Corona for a long time, even if everyone else slowly emerges from the swamp of despair. However, no French politician and very few journalists have so far launched a full and credible attack on Macron's unfortunate achievement in overcoming the crisis. Should Zemmour want to go this way, he is still open to him.

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