The golden rules can be broken. Emmanuel Macron could still be re-elected next spring (despite the right-wing British media already celebrating his defeat).
Marine Le Pen is unlikely to crash and burn, but she is also highly unlikely to be the next President of the Republic.
Assuming it won’t be Macron or Le Pen, then who could it be?
Just over a year after the first round of the presidential elections, aspiring French heads of state are already forming a disorderly queue in the media.
Some have already declared their candidacy, such as Xavier Bertrand, the center-right president of the northern region of France, Hauts-de-France.
Some ostentatiously refuse to say whether or not they will run, like Edouard Philippe, Macron’s former prime minister.
Some are perpetual candidates, like the far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Some clearly intend to run, but are waiting for the right moment, like Valérie Pécresse, president of the Paris region of Île-de-France.
Some want to run, but are trying to create the conditions for their election by dysfunctional political families, like the green MEP Yannick Jadot.
French politics has always been wonderfully confused, shaped by the part monarchical and part parliamentary nature of the system.
The parties, with the partial exception of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, are weak. Personal ambitions are strong. Public patience with headlines is weak, but the urge to believe in new messiahs is eternal.
All of this almost worked when French politics was dominated by the old political “families” of the ruling left and right. Now things are even more confusing.
Macron (“a kind of centrist”) and Le Pen (“far-right in disguise”) destroyed what was left of the old duopoly five years ago when they pushed both the center-right and the center-left out of the two second-round candidates of the presidential election.
French politics is now a game invented for two played by four. Imagine a chess board with four sets of pieces or a boxing with fighters in every corner of the ring.
Add to that the fact that the “center-right” and “center-left greens” are not monolithic movements, dominated by a strong party or leader. They are permanent family squabbles, driven in part by ideology, mostly by personal ambition.
Add, as well, the worst pandemic in a century.
Add, too, the plague mood over all politicians in rural and suburban France revealed by the Giles Jaunes (yellow vest) movement and now also common among urban youth.
Predicting the outcome, including the general shape, of the upcoming April and May elections is a gloriously dangerous undertaking. Here, however, it is an attempt to separate the plausible from the impossible, into four questions.
Should we take Xavier Bertrand, President of the North, as seriously as he takes himself?
Late last month, Betrand lunged at his center-right rivals, declaring himself Charles de Gaulle’s spiritual successor and “a candidate for all the French people.” He would run an independent campaign, he said, and ignore any primary that may or may not be organized by the main center-right party, Les Républicains, in October.
Bertrand agrees to rule in part through referendums, borrowing one of the demands of the Gilets Jaunes movement. He says it represents “regionalism, not Parisism” (the GJs again). He promises to be tough on crime and terrorism (reacting to the exaggerated image of a France ravaged by violence presented by the right-wing media).
He says he is not an “investment banker” (Macron) nor an “heiress” (Le Pen), but an insurance agent from a small town of Flavy-le-Martel in Picardy who got caught up in politics, lost the heading for a while. and now he has discovered that it “comes from the village.”
This careful positioning or pretense – “Monsieur Bertrand goes to Paris” – disguises the fact that he held ministerial positions for 9 years; that he was a member of parliament for 12 years; and general secretary of the main center-right party for two years (divorcing two wives on the way).
Bertrandisme is a revival of the policy of doing very little, something for everyone, that allowed France to wander aimlessly for much of the 1990s and early 2000s. But unexciting and familiar it is perhaps with what many French will conform to next year after the disorders of the Covid epidemic, neither a new revolution (Le Pen) nor an unfinished revolution (Macron).
Could Bertrand put the president in a spot in the second round of two candidates? Your first post-declaration opinion polls are bad. If you are dragged into a mess within the diminished center right, you have lost your bet. He needs to quickly emerge as the “third man” alongside Macron and Le Pen.
What is Edouard Philippe up to?
Macron’s former prime minister is now France’s most popular active politician. A book is published Wednesday about his experiences as PM. He has been doing a round of media interviews in which he timidly does not say whether he will a) run for president or b) not run for president.
The Elysee believes he will not, as long as Macron plans to flee. If the president decides he has little chance of re-election, if let’s say the Covid pandemic is unresponsive to treatment, Philippe could be his agreed-upon replacement.
The danger for Macron is that other people might try to make that decision for him. The president’s popularity, 38 percent approval, is the highest of any late French president in more than three decades. If that collapses, Philippe could emerge as the leader of a delegation of the great and good advising Macron to step aside.
What the heck is going on in the center-left?
Yannick Jadot, Green MEP and one of several possible green presidential candidates, has called a meeting later this month of all parties, movements, tribes and fragments of the left and the greens to discuss a single presidential program and a way to choose a unique candidate.
Great idea. Any chance of success? None at all. Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise, which has most of the support of the left, has made it clear that they will do it alone. Other figures in the green movement accuse Jadot of trying to circumvent the green primaries scheduled for September.
The prolonged suicide of the French left continues.
Can Le Pen beat Macron if, as it still seems possible, they both return to the second round? Recent long-distance opinion polls put the far-right leader at 48 percent, compared to her score of 34 percent in 2017. And yet her own personal rating, in the low 30s, is more. poor than five years ago.
The numbers add up only because a part of the French left, although unable to produce a convincing candidate or a coherent program of its own, has convinced itself that macronism is as evil as lepennisme. Left-wing voters, especially young left-wing voters, say they will abstain a lot in a second round of Le Pen-Macron
They will do it? Yes, I hope that many of them, although perhaps not as many as they say, will tell the pollsters that they will.
A repeat of the second lap of 2017 would be an unpleasantly close race. I think Macron would win. But if the president’s grades drop this summer and the possible confrontation with Le Pen turns dangerous, gray men in gray suits could visit the Elysee.
They would suggest that, for the good of France, Macron should allow the very popular Edouard Philippe the opportunity to become President of the Republic (and instantly become unpopular).
I am not saying this happens. I’m saying it could happen.
As it is, my money would be in Macron. If it is not him, it will be because he decided not to run or he lost in the first round.
I do not believe that the French people, however perverse, or the French electoral system, however confusing, will produce a President Marine Le Pen.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism