Clouds in the Crystal Ball
The French party system, already fractured beyond recognition, has disintegrated even more in recent weeks. True, the Greens now have a candidate, Yannick Jadot, behind whom they have nominally united after a very narrow (51-49) primary victory. But on the right, the quasi-candidacy of Eric Zemmour, who has suddenly become the cynosure of the media, has all but erased the certitude of a renewed Macron-Le Pen faceoff. A recent Harris poll puts Zemmour at 13%, just behind Xavier Bertrand (14) and Le Pen (16). Macron, who remains in the mid-20s, thus seems assured of a place in the second round, but the identity of his opponent is now anybody’s guess–assuming that this poll is meaningful, which it may not be, since the campaign has barely begun.
Le Pen’s apparent collapse is unprecedented in both speed and depth. It seems that what many who vote for the RN want is not a “de-demonized” party that can actually win the presidency but a loud voice for intolerance, xenophobia, and bigotry. At the moment, Zemmour’s voice is the loudest in that register, although LR leader Christian Jacob seems hopeful of harnessing the Zemmour megaphone to the cause of the LR by exonerating him of the charges of racism and extremism. Le Pen is attempting to fight back by portraying her party as “ready to govern,” a message unlike to find many buyers or to recoup the support lost to Zemmour.
In short, if Zemmour actually throws his hat in the ring, which seems increasingly likely, the first round is going to be a wide-open contest–so wide open that there is even room for a candidate of the left–Jadot or Mélenchon, probably, but even Hidalgo, why not?–to mount a credible challenge. Any number of candidates will be able to split the 75% of the vote not eager to see Macron re-elected. But this scenario depends entirely on Zemmour remaining in the race and draining support from Le Pen. Will he do so even if he has little hope of becoming president? There are many reasons to think so. Throwing his hat in the ring will be good for his brand, his ego, and his bank book. He has lost his regular gig on CNews but in the process gained an even larger audience, as all the national media vie to cover him. It’s a depressing spectacle–but spectacles seem to be what people want, or at least what people will sit still for as the media profit by selling them.