Here are a few additional thoughts. The republican front, said to have collapsed, still exists and remains fairly robust. Macron doubled his score between the two rounds. Millions of voters who dislike or even detest him nevertheless turned out to block Le Pen’s path to victory. Many Mélenchon voters were among them: Macron took 68 percent of the 18-24 vote in the second round. Most of those votes came from Mélenchon. The educated are with him: he took 70 percent of college graduates.
I did two brief TV appearances last night on France24. The anchors wanted me to say that the republican front had collapsed; I resisted. They wanted me to ratify Le Pen’s claim of “une victoire éclatante.” I think that’s wrong: she suffered a devastating and humiliating defeat, gaining only eight points against an incumbent who is widely disliked and whose efforts were hampered by widespread and persistent resistance and an unprecedented epidemic. I am often a political pessimist, but I cannot understand why so many in France are determined to overlook the obvious: it took Eric Zemmour, of all people, to point out that this is the eighth time the Le Pens have lost. France does not want their brand of xenophobic nationalism. Fortunately, France is even less receptive to Zemmour’s brand, which combines xenophobia with religious bigotry. This is very good news, but too many in France refuse to acknowledge it.
It is a relief to see that France has not succumbed to the mindless polarization and public stupidity that has overtaken the United States. I think the main danger it faces in the five years ahead is not that Macron will fail but that the losing extremes will take their grievances to the streets, creating violent disorder of the kind the provokes violent reaction. There were already a few incidents yesterday; no doubt more lie ahead. France remains a demonstrative country.
Such violence may be avoided if the next National Assembly is more representative than the last. I think it will be. The Republicans and Socialists will benefit from “a dead cat bounce.” They retain pockets of strength in the provinces. La France Insoumise, the RN, Reconquête, and EELV should all win seats. I doubt that Macron will pull off a repeat of the miracle of 2017. All this is to the good. A dose of proportional representation, which has been discussed, might improve things further down the road. A Jupiterian executive needs a robust opposition to thwart his worst instincts and force him to compromise. A strengthened legislature could make Macron a better politician–which shouldn’t be difficult, since his political skills at present are minimal. But he is capable of learning.
The war in Ukraine, rising prices, and continuing supply shortages will pose major challenges. Macron will be blamed for all, even though he is responsible for none and has few tools to combat them. But these challenges also present him with an opportunity to explain the deeper causes of France’s predicament–he’s good at explaining when he wants to be–and to rally its people to meet them.
Whether’s he’s also good at rallying the people in a time of crisis remains to be seen. A little humility might help. A little less reliance on cheesy PR stunts might also be a good idea–the Pied Piper bit with the children at the Tour Eiffel last night was a silly followup to his bathetic debate closing about dedicating his next quinquennat to the children of France. Tom McTague’s anticipation of Macron greatness in The Atlantic was more than a little overdone, but the core perception is correct: greatness is thrust upon leaders who rise to meet great challenges. The challenges that Macron faces are enormous, and this could be his moment.