Sarkozy: Escadron, A Droite, Salu-ez.
Today’s post is an attempt to catch up on the lasted news and the evolution of the French presidential election. We have had quite a week. First, Claude Guéant and his “civilizations are not equal” declaration, then Sarkozy’s long interview in Le Figaro Magazine titled “Mes Valeurs Pour La France”, and the possibility that Marine Le Pen will not be able to gather the 500 necessary signatures to be able to be on the ballot. Well first, let me clear one thing: Sarkozy is running, and there was never a doubt in my mind (or on his for that matter) that he wasn’t going to run again. Those who thought otherwise either don’t know much about politics or have not been paying close attention to the Sarkozy circus.
So, this week, we have Guéant, Sarkozy, and Le Pen. The question is: what is the link between the 3? And how does Guéant’s declaration about civilizations play a role in helping Sarkozy win his reelection bid while at the same time taking a sharp ideological turn to his right? Well, everything is linked. It is like jigsaw puzzle and each little piece fits in its little place, and when all the pieces are assembled, the resulting image is Sarkozy in the Élysée Palace for 5 more years. Allow me to explain all of this, folks.
First, we start with Marine Le Pen. As i write this post, Marine Le Pen does not have the 500 necessary signatures (500 parrainages) from local officials to be on the ballot. The likelihood that she does not get those signatures is real. So, who benefits the most from such a situation? Well, let us look at a poll conducted by Le Journal du Dimanche last weekend.
Clearly, the candidate who benefits the most from Marine Le Pen’s absence in the first round of the presidential election is Sarkozy. He goes from an average of 26.6% (i averaged all the polls from December 01, 2011 to February 01, 2012 of the following polling institutes: BVA, CSA, HARRIS, IFOP, IPSOS, LH2, Opinionway, and TNS-SOFRES) to a 33% in the first round. This is a jump of more than 6%, while all other candidates maintain their normal statistical scores. Clearly, the one who benefits the most from the absence of Le Pen is Sarkozy (statistically, he is 1% outside of the margin of error upper bound). The problem for Sarkozy is that he still loses the second round badly to Holland even if Le Pen is not on the first round ballot (a difference of about 8 percentage points). Where can Sarkozy get 8 more percentage points to close the gap with Hollande in the second round and win the election? Most importantly, what can he do to close that gap in the second round and get 6 or 8 points to win? Here enters the faithful soldier, Claude Guéant, and Sarkozy’s “Mes Valeurs Pour La France.”
The minister of the interior Guéant, in an informal meeting with the young UMPists, said last week the following:
Roughly translated, Guéant said that “Contrary to the relativist ideology and doctrine of the left, for us, not all civilizations are created equal.” This is quite a statement. It is so radical that Heinrich Luitpold Himmler would be proud of his disciple. It is important to understand that Guéant is not talking about political regimes, social and economic structures, or even political values and democracy. Guéant is talking about the importance of civilizational hierarchy. It is also very important to understand that Guéant did not make a mistake or misspoke or his remarks were taken out of context or misconstrued. Guéant meant what he said and said what he meant. Why? Why would a politician so disciplined like Guéant say something so controversial in the middle of a very contested presidential campaign? Well, this is what American politicians and observers call a strong and loud dog-whistle, and its objective is to attract or get the attention of the voters of the National Front. If Sarkozy is seen as a believer (by the way, Sarkozy did not rebuke Guéant’s remarks or distance himself from his minister of the interior. He actually defended and supported his remarks) in the hierarchy of the civilizations–i.e., that the white Catholics are racially, ethnically, culturally, economically, and politically form a more advanced civilization than the rest of immigrants in France–he would be seeing as the ideological gap and distance between him and the FN voters. And if he closes that distance, he would get a big chunk of Marine Le Pen’s vote. Add to that the possibility that she might not be able to be on the ballot, you would have a very close first round, and possibly a close second one too.
In addition, Sarkozy’s long interview in Le Figaro Magazine (a puff piece of the worse kind of journalism i have ever seen. It’s not really journalism, it’s a Soviet-like propaganda piece) leaves no doubt about his sharp ideological turn to the right. The essence of the interview is: same-sex marriage? No; Voting right for foreigners? No; Adoption rights for homosexuals? No; Euthanasia? No; Situation of the unemployed? Take the job we give you, get some training or go somewhere else, etc… So Sarkozy has clearly opted to campaign very hard on his right. In this interview he does not talk about the economic crisis or the dire situation of most of the French people, but he talks about values, “his values for France.” In a way, Sarkozy decided to run on the cleavage left-right and create a clear and sharp distinction between him and Hollande by positioning himself to right of the traditional right-left ideological divide. He is so far to the right that the distinction between him and Marine Le Pen is only a matter of rhetoric, not policies and values.
Most French incumbent presidents (Giscard, Mitterrand or Chirac) when they decide to run for a second term, they choose to run on the theme of unity, of bringing the country together, of creating a synergy to lift the country to a higher level and so on. They also run on their records and showcase their accomplishments. Sarkozy cannot do that. I said it before in a previous post on this blog that Sarkozy will run away from his record as vampire runs away from the sunlight. His record is abysmal and he cannot use it and hope to even win the first round. So, he needs to find another theme. Thus, Sarkozy decided to run a value-driven campaign–right-wing value-driven campaign more accurately. Can he win with this strategy? Yes, the electoral math says so. If he runs hard to his right (with the possible absence of Marine Le Pen, this strategy works better), he secures for himself a high enough score in the first round to be able to face Hollande in the second round. The whole strategy of Sarkozy can be summarized in four words: winning the first round. Then, anything is possible. It is, as the French would say, strictement une campagne du premier tour
It is up to Hollande to counter this strategy by never running against Sarkozy the man, but running against Sarkozy’s record. Hollande must talk and hammer Sarkozy’s record ad nauseam. This is Hollande’s most lethal electoral weapon. No one really cares about Hollande’s policy proposals as most voters are ignorant and don’t understand the particularities of fiscal policies or budget reduction versus generation of new revenues. Hollande already passed the most important test–i.e., he looks and sounds as a capable politician and most French people can easily imagine him in the Élysée Palace handling the business of the state–now, he has to cleverly attack the record of Sarkozy and keep it the main focus of the campaign. One more point, it is important for Hollande not to lose control over the agenda. He has to set the agenda and dictate the rhythm of the themes debated during the upcoming weeks. It is easier to say this than do it, especially when one is running against and incumbent. However, by controlling as much as possible the agenda setting, Hollande controls as much as he can his destiny. In other word: this election should be a referendum on Sarkozy’s performance in office for the last 5 years. If Hollande does that, he wins.