Sarkozy: “Le brave capitaine du navire dans une violente tempête.” Je l’ai prédit il ya de cela quatre mois
In October 27, 2011, about 4 months ago, i argued that Sarkozy would follow G.W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign strategy. In this strategy Bush II presented himself to the American people as the “experienced [candidate], battle-hardened, steady-handed leader and the captain who navigated the treacherous waters and brought Ship America to a safe harbor in these dire times.”
When i wrote those words, i did not think that Sarkozy would quote me almost verbatim four months later when he would announce his candidacy. Well, ladies and gentlemen, he just did. Here is what Sarkozy said yesterday evening on TF1
Quoting from my October 2011 post, i said that
Sarkozy’s reelection campaign strategy will look [exactly like Bush’s reelection campaign]. [Sarkozy] cannot run on domestic issues. He has one of the worst record in job creation of the fifth republic; he has introduced highly controversial reforms that have not yielded any results (social security reform, retirement reform, education and so forth); he has a poor record on immigration control; he has a poor record on the economy and economic growth; and he has a poor record on security. During his tenure, deficit spending went through the roof and the overall charge of the national debt has tremendously increased. So what else out there is left to run on? In two words: Leadership, and national unity.
Well, tonight Sarkozy proved me right. He is the captain of Ship France and he cannot abandon the ship in this terrible storm. In reality, the options before Sarkozy were/are very limited. Since he cannot run on his record, he must run away from it. But the question, what can he run since he cannot run on his record? The answer is leadership. Sarkozy is betting big on his leadership quality, on his manhood, on his Savor-of-France status. Is it going to be enough? Yes, but at one condition: he has to attack Hollande violently, mercilessly, and negatively. I predict that this is going to be the nastiest electoral campaign in the history of France because any other campaign style would lead directly Hollande to elected easily.
Say whatever you want about Sarkozy, the man is a fighter. And he will fight until the bitter end. The problem with conducting a no holds barred, scorched earth negative campaign is that the attacker tends to increase his unfavorable ratings (unfovorables in electoral campaign jargon are the negatives of the candidates). Of course, the attacked candidate gets hurt in the process and loses several points, but the attacker almost always sees his negatives increases as well. Sarkozy has already huge favorable ratings (the spread is about 20 points against Sarkozy right now and has been stable for several months now) and going on the attack can literally sink his campaign. So, i am guessing that it is not going to be Sarkozy who would do the daily attacking, the most dirtiest and nastiest attacking; he will delegate that to one of his faithful campaign lieutenants–preferably someone who is trusted by the public, even liked by the public; someone with a beautiful smile and an ease with words; someone who has the reputation of a nice guy or girl–to do the dirty work. For negative campaigning to be efficient it must look like normal innocent electoral politics. Briefly stated, the attacker must take the pettiness, the rapacity, and the meanness away from the attack and couch the whole thing in normalcy.
So, brace yourself Holland, a shit storm is about to hit you. Sarkozy could get away with such strategy if Hollande is not ready strategically and methodically to respond, and if he gets distracted by the 1001 forthcoming little daily attacks. Bush proved that this strategy can be successful. So, there is a successful model out there to successfully execute such a strategy. There is also the unsuccessful counter-strategy model of what-not-to-do. Yes, absolutely this strategy can be successful if the Socialist Party and François Hollande roll-over and play dead. This is the time for the PS and for Hollande to go on the offensive. Hollande cannot afford to play defense on the theme of leadership. Hollande cannot let Sarkozy own the theme of leadership. As the old saying goes, the best defense is offense; this is more true in politics than in sport. If Hollande allowed Sarkozy to capture the debate and dictate the tempo and the themes upon which the campaign would be fought, the socialist candidate would lose. Period. There is no doubt about this. Moreover, if Hollande let’s Sarkozy frame him as a weak, divisive, and an untrustworthy leader, Hollande would lose. Hollande has 3 deadly weapons in his arsenal: 1) hammer Sarkozy’s record daily; 2) don’t run against Sarkozy the man, run against Sarkozy the incumbent president with a bad record; and 3) attack Sarkozy’s strongest suit, which is leadership. If Hollande neutralizes Sarkozy’s leadership theme, he wins. Ladies and gentlemen, electoral politics is mostly a game of perception and expectation, and if you let the voters see you as weak, you might as well pack up and go home. That’s why Hollande has to fight Sarkozy on the theme of leadership.