Le Bal des Prétendants

9 April 2024

Yes, I know, the next presidential election is still eons away, but le bal des prétendants was already well under way when the orchestra struck several false notes.

First, it was revealed that in the wake of the Covid and energy crises, which the government chose to ameliorate by spending freely, the budget deficit had risen to 5.5%. Then Édouard Philippe was hit with a search warrant, alleging that he was part of a scheme to … well, suffice it to say that the details are too tedious to recount, and of course everyone is presumed innocent until the fat lady sings (remind François Fillon of that). And then, lo and behold, La France Insoumise has fallen into the nether reaches of pre-EU Parliamentary election polling despite the presence of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La République, c’est moi! Remember the 22%!) on the LFI list. And who has emerged has the golden boy of the left? Not François Ruffin or Clémentine Autain but Raphaël Glucksmann! True, he’s only polling at 12%, but, crikey! that’s nearly twice what any Socialist or Socialist-adjacent candidate has managed in recent memory, so already none other than François Hollande is said to be plotting his comeback.

Until recently, presidential handicappers have considered Philippe to be this round’s force tranquille, largely because he had led the approval rating sweepstakes. But memories fade, and he had been slipping in the polls even before the search warrant, perhaps simply because young and energetic Gabriel Attal has been campaigning more or less full time since being elevated to the prime ministership.

Meanwhile, Bruno Le Maire, another ex-LR Macroniste de la deuxième heure (i.e., after there was something to be gained by jumping ship), had seemed to entertain hopes of another presidential run, despite having flopped miserably his first time out. He has spent years earnestly endeavoring to repair his charisma deficit by, among other things, writing a (much-mocked) racy novel and befriending Michel Houellebecq, who immortalized a certain “Bruno” in Anéantir. Now, however, he is facing the prospect of being tagged as the finance minister who allowed the deficit to get away from him, despite his just having published a book in which he casts himself as the fiercest of deficit scolds.

Ferocity is more the natural habitat of Le Maire’s rival Gérald Darmanin, who as interior minister will have his hands full coping with the challenge of securing this summer’s Olympic games. Meanwhile, various public-sector unions are threatening to disrupt the games unless they are properly rewarded for remaining at their posts in the face of the Great Replacement that will see millions of Parisians supplanted by foreigners prepared to pay exorbitant prices to see in person what they could see better on television at home, complete with hyper-chauvinist commentary. Darmanin must be having nightmares about a possible repeat of the chaos at the Stade de France when Real Madrid faced Liverpool in 2022–a repeat which could put paid to his presidential hopes.

In the meantime, somewhere in the provinces, Laurent Wauquiez is calculating the angles on a three-cushion shot that he hopes will enable him to knock out Le Pen, Zemmour, and Xavier Bertrand with one stroke. Believing in one’s destiny is surely a prerequisite to winning France’s top job, but someone should tell Wauquiez that necessary does not imply sufficient.

So where are we? Will the third time be the charm for Marine Le Pen? While it would be unwise to bet against her at this stage, it’s impossible to bet for her, even though Giorgia Meloni has demonstrated, as they say on Wall Street, that past performance is no guarantee of future results. I’m not convinced that the French political terroir, though strewn with the rubble of Macronism, has become utterly barren. Something may turn up, though I’m not sure where to look.

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