The Morning After
The 2021 regionals are history. What to make of the results? First, the vast majority of voters continued to abstain. Second, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National suffered a severe setback. The RN list in PACA, led by Thierry Mariani, did not merely lose; it was crushed, tallying 14 points less than the Republican-LREM coalition led by Renaud Muselier. In Hauts-de-France, moreover, Sébastien Chenu lost by 24 points. In short, a terrible day for the Le Penist forces. And if, as Marine Le Pen contends, a large pool of RN voters remains untapped, her entreaties after Round 1 that they should show themselves to send a message to the powers-that-be fell on deaf ears. Clearly she will have to rethink her strategy for the presidential elections.
As pleasant as it is to see the far right discomfited, it’s hard to know what to make of these results. In nearly all regions, incumbents, including Socialist incumbents, fared extremely well. This is hard to square with the idea that France is a nation of perpetual malcontents smoldering with resentment at the way the country is being managed. True, the presidential “party” (the scare quotes are meant to suggest that calling it a party is an undeserved compliment) barely registered at the polls, and Macron’s failure to give his “vision” local roots may yet prove to have been a mistake, but the regionals were never going to deliver a definitive verdict on a president who has always seen himself as hors sol.
Like the RN, the Greens failed to capture any region, but they did increase their representation. I don’t think Jadot’s time has come, and I don’t see any real prospect of a credible coalition on the left. Any challenge to Macron will likely come from the center right, but how the various personal rivalries are going to work themselves out is far from clear. The (center-)right is in an even worse pickle than in 2017, when there were too many credible contenders, and since they no longer all claim to belong to a single party, it’s hard to imagine a primary. But unless they winnow the field before Round 1 of the presidential, they’ll knock one another out. Bertrand, Pécresse, Wauquiez, Philippe, Baroin–and, who knows? Darmanin, Le Maire, Larcher: all sense the opportunity, but how to capitalize on it remains a puzzle.