17 February 2022

It looks more and more like the 2022 presidential election will not be about electing the next president–few doubt that the incumbent will be re-elected–but rather about the future complexion of French politics.

Accordingly, defections are proliferating. Yesterday, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate in 2007 (which now seems like a remote, all-but-incomprehensible era), endorsed Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who in her eyes is “waging the best campaign” and is the only conceivable “useful vote” for voters on the left.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Bay, once the spokesman for Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, formalized his affiliation with Zemmour’s Reconquest following his suspension from RN, which accused him of having supplied campaign documents to Zemmour. Bay’s expulsion/defection was preceded by the defections of Stéphane Ravier, formerly the RN’s only senator; Guillaume Peltier; and Gilbert Collard. Meanwhile, Eric Ciotti, presumably a backer of Valérie Pécresse, let it be known that if she didn’t make it into round two, he would vote for Zemmour–an extraordinary declaration for a presumptive party stalwart, tantamount to a defection before the fact.

What does all this signify? First, it has become clear not only to the politicians of the right, but also to their bankrollers, such as Vincent Bolloré, that Le Pen’s rise had fatally compromised the mainstream or republican right. As long as the traditional cordon sanitaire around the far right remained in place, it would be difficult to challenge the solid centrist coalition around Macron. Zemmour may not be the right-wing standard-bearer of the future, but he has shown that a new lineup is possible on the right, one capable of attracting heavy hitters from both sides of the former cordon.

This new quasi-party will be just as “bourgeois” as the Macronist center. What it will not be is cosmopolitan, pro-EU, pro-globalization, socially tolerant, and youthfully hip. It will emphasize the traditional family and the Catholic religion, rail against immigration, homosexuality, gender theory, Islam, etc., and retail its own highly expurgated version of le roman national in lieu of any concrete discussion of social or economic policy. It will leave the working class, les gilets jaunes, and other unruly manifestations of popular discontent to Le Pen and Mélenchon and do battle in the center for what it sees as the 75% of the electorate not drawn to either of those two extremes.

The remapping of the right is thus already under way. On the left, things are not so clear. Royal’s defection puts yet another nail in the coffin of the PS, but, unlike in Germany, the Greens have not really captured the imagination of floating left-wing voters in search of a mooring place. Mélenchon may barely lead the pack at the moment, but he is stuck at around 10% and in any case is a spent force: this will be his last race, and he has made LFI such a personal vehicle that it will splinter when he retires. Hidalgo at 1.5% achieves the remarkable feat of showing that a Socialist could do even worse than Hamon in 2017. Taubira is running even with the Communist Fabien Roussel at 4.5%. The contending forces on the left are thus pulling in five or six different directions, and it will take a very perspicacious political entrepreneur to figure a way out of this depressing morass.

Meanwhile, readers interested in Zemmour’s rise will profit from reading Arun Kapil’s excellent piece in the London Review.

1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    Zemmour’s “Reconquest” is a retrograde 21st century reimagining of the, traditional Catholic “intégriste” position that has lived on in France since the monarchy was toppled. It took the form of support for the Restoration in the early 19th century, anti-Dreyfusard sentiment in the late 19th century, Maurras in the early 20th and Jean-Marie Le Pen in the latter half of that century. Notwithstanding, it is rather remarkable that Zemmour has displaced Le Pen with an appeal that is not an appeal to conservatively inclined working people but to a moral panic over the threat posed by a more diverse France.
    What does it mean that in France in 2022 there is a substantial segment of the population that prefers the overtly bigoted, misogynist ideology mouthed by Zemmour to the milder claptrap of Marine Le Pen? To give her her due, Le Pen continues to insist that her “certain idea of France” is a country open to any foreigner who will accept already-established French rules. Zemmour peddles something different: a France where foreigners and non-Catholics are by definition excluded.
    For Zemmour to call what he is doing a “Reconquest” also plays to historical memory about the expulsion of the Moors –and eventually Jews, too– from Spain, and the blocking of any further Moorish expansion into France by Charles the Hammer. Zemmour preys upon the fears of his supporters about “the Other” in a way that is more devious than Marine Le Pen’s appeals to a “traditional” France. If Zemmour remains a force on the French Right, if the “grosses têtes” of “Les Republicains” still take him seriously after his certain defeat in the presidential election, it would give cause for concern. To be taken seriously and courted afterwards –Zemmour’s continuance in politics would introduce a strain of reactionary politics into the program of the French Right that cannot do France –or the Right– any good.

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