Chronicle of a Death Foretold

9 June 2024

The result was no surprise. The response was. But it shouldn’t have been.

The polls had predicted a landslide victory for Jordan Bardella and the Rassemblement National for months, and they proved remarkably accurate. The Macroniste list led by Valérie Hayer scored fewer than half as many points and finished almost even with Raphael Glucksmann’s Place Publique (a respectable showing for this latest attempt to rally the left). The rump of the center-right polled a dismal 7.2% behind François Bellamy, falling short of the La France Insoumise ticket led by Manon Aubry (9.8%, somewhat better than I expected, suggesting that the Mélenchoniste movement is not quite dead).

The electoral map is unlike anything I’ve ever seen: France is a sea of brown (as in brown shirts), with occasional dots of pink (left), orange (center), and blue (conservative). The protest vote for the far-right was massive and ubiquitous, with the few centers of resistance limited to urban agglomerations.

Given the scope of the debacle, Macron’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly, though stunning, shouldn’t have come as a surprise, especially in view of the president’s penchant for imagining himself in de Gaulle’s shoes. When staggered by the uprising of May ’68, de Gaulle too dissolved the National Assembly in a bid to restore his democratic legitimacy. It was a high-stakes gamble that paid off. Macron is similarly staking his all on a new popular mandate. But it’s hard to see how he wins this bet. In 1968, de Gaulle instinctively counted on France’s stalwart conservative reserves to reject la chienlit (disorder). Today, however, there are no scruffy revolutionaries prying up paving stones, smashing windows, tossing smoke grenades, or chanting “la chienlit, c’est lui.” The instinctively conservative peuple fears the disorder it perceives as being sown by aggressively ambitious technocrats like Macron and Attal, who dress in tailored suits and are perpetually scurrying about with cellphones glued to their ears. The party of order wants to sortir les sortants; it sees no barbarians at the gates, only Bardella, the opposite of a bomb thrower: le gendre idéal, rather, who may not have bested Attal in debate but who was instantly elevated to the stature of potential prime minister merely by having been accorded a one-on-one face-off with the man who currently occupies the post.

So how does Macron expect to win his gamble? There are two possibilities. Either he believes he can somehow jigger the rapidly upcoming parliamentary election (first round slated for the end of June) to resemble a presidential contest between two stark alternatives, forcing every candidate to declare in favor of either “the presidential party” or its far-right opposition. Or he believes that there is in fact no way to stop the RN and believes that the best way of weakening and discrediting the RN and preventing Marine Le Pen from becoming his successor is to install the far right in power and allow it to flounder and sink under the weight of its own incompetence. This would be a maneuver more reminiscent of Mitterrand le Florentin than of de Gaulle. And it might well backfire, first because Macron is no Mitterrand and second because there is no guarantee that the RN would fail (or be perceived as failing by an electorate less impressed by statistics than Macron’s entourage and more inclined to judge with its gut).

There is also a third possibility, however, and to my mind the most likely. Although it’s very hard to read today’s vote as auguring an improvement in the position of the so-called “presidential majority” in the upcoming election, it’s also far from clear that the RN will come anywhere near winning a majority of its own or cobbling together a majority coalition out of supporters of Zemmour, Marion Maréchal, and Les Républicains so desperate for survival that they finally do away with what’s left of the old cordon sanitaire dividing the center-right from the far right. What may emerge is therefore a National Assembly pretty much like the one already in place, leaving Macron free to name a new prime minister of his choosing and by no means forced to name Bardella. The president is at bottom one of those inveterate gamblers who can’t shake the conviction that the stars will be with him on the next turn of the wheel. And for the next few weeks all of us will be bystanders at the roulette table, watching over his shoulder as he places his bets.

1 Comment

  • Thank you for this summary, Mr. Goldhammer, and I hope you’re right that Macron wins his bet: it’s hard to get from throwing stones at the ruling party from one’s perch of 25% support to actually governing with 50.1%. I predict no clear majority emerging from these early legislative elections, and Macron limping along with more Jupiter behavior in international circles so that he can avoid flying eggs, flour, and shoes in popular settings with angry, vulnerable citizens exasperated by rising natural gas prices and other resentments.

    I recommend listening to this interview by Guillaume Erner (France Culture) with the author of a recent biography (by Pierre-Stephane Fort) of the highly coached pretty boy Jordan Bardella who could, if the anti-Enlightenment eclipse progresses across the Hexagon, get a turn as Prime Minister:

    C. Jon Delogu
    Professeur des Universites
    Univ Jean Moulin – Lyon 3

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