Jean-Luc Mélenchon is entitled to a little crowing. He outran his polls and improved his position slightly compared with 2017. But in negotiations with the Greens and Socialists over a possible accord in advance of the June legislative elections, he’s using his vote total as a bludgeon to insist that his party, La France Insoumise, be given a share of seats of the “united left” equal to his share of the combined left-wing vote. Since many who might have voted for the Greens, the Socialists, or the Communists chose for tactical reasons to support Mélenchon instead, this maneuver promises to skew the left-wing representation in the National Assembly well to the left of where the hypothetical median left voter stands.
Such a maneuver would make Mélenchon the often eloquent yet equally often hectoring, scowling, fulminating tribune of the left, alienating more moderate social democrats and making it more difficult for the left to attract voters from the orbits of Macron, Philippe, Pécresse, Bertrand, and other more centrist candidates. To propel Mélenchon into this role would not be to respond to the wishes of voters but to submit to the strong-arm tactics of a sectarian movement. Yet to reject Mélenchon’s demands would be to perpetuate the divisions that have rendered the left all but powerless since 2017. This is a real dilemma, and I am afraid it will be resolved by capitulation, since the Greens are very weak and the Socialists on the brink of death and hardly in a position to demand better terms.
Meanwhile, on the right, while Valérie Pécresse pleads for contributions to help erase her 5 million euro personal loan, the maneuvering, while less visible, is equally intense. Les Républicains aren’t quite dead in the water, but the circling sharks are roiling the seas around the still-quivering carcass. Édouard Philippe, who hopes to capitalize on the popularity he took with him when Macron fired him from his post as prime minister, has formed a “group” which he hopes will accompany him to the presidency in 2027. Xavier Bertrand, whom LR should have nominated instead of Pécresse, is nursing similar hopes but has yet to give them concrete form. Eric Ciotti, who finished second to Pécresse in the LR primary, is trying to figure out how to swing the tiller hard to the right without making himself a hapless appendage of Le Pen. And Laurent Wauquiez, still smarting from his disastrous run as party chieftain, is plotting his comeback.
LR has yet to take the full measure of its debacle. Sarko-nostalgics cannot help noticing that their hero, after refusing to say the slightest word in favor of Pécresse, quickly endorsed Macron on election night. Eric Woerth had already bolted to Macron weeks earlier. Jean-François Copé, Rachida Dati, and Bertrand offer a contrast with Macron in style but not in substance, and the party needs to find a way to differentiate itself from the center without dissolving itself in the more acidulous atmosphere of the hard right. The legislatives are probably too soon for a coherent line (or competing lines) to emerge, but it will be interesting to watch this space in the year ahead. The whole cast of characters enumerated above is now showing its age, and it remains to be seen what new talent will emerge.