French President Emmanuel Macron has become, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the undisputed favorite to win the presidential elections on April 10 and 24 in France. But the favorite status – in a “presidential campaign without momentum”, as he describes it Le Mondeof a minor tone and with few rallies—involves a risk: demobilization.
To dispel overconfidence, Macron (Amiens, 44 years old) went back to doing what he likes on Monday. In Dijon, the city of mustard and capital of Burgundy, Macron took a mass bath and discussed face to face with citizens, a practice that, during his five-year term, has put him in more than one unexpected situation. Everyone in France remembers the time he scolded a kid for calling him “Manu”, or the time a man slapped him. In Dijon, flanked by local political veterans from the Socialist Party, he gave a press conference on the street, which allowed him to do something that, as President of the Republic, he may miss: going down to the partisan mud.
Macron, in other words, really campaigned. It should be natural less than two weeks before the first round of elections, and when the campaign officially begins, even though it started months ago. It is not. Because there is nothing normal about this campaign since Vladimir Putin launched his tanks, missiles and planes against Ukraine.
The war had two effects. First, he canceled the campaign. The rallies are scarce and the debates and controversies have little travel. Second effect: the centrist Macron cemented his favorite status. The most recent poll by the Ifop institute gives the president the winner in the first round, on April 10, with 28% of the vote, followed by Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right, with 21%. Both would qualify for the second round, on April 24, and Macron would defeat Le Pen.
And this is the danger, according to the Macronists: relying excessively on these scenarios. The Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, warned about it last week on the France 5 network: “I have always thought that Mrs. Le Pen, with whom I have come across since I have dedicated myself to politics, is dangerous, she is dangerous for the president of the Republic, can win these elections”.
the ultra front
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There is a mobilizing tactic in the appeal to the ultra threat. But it is also true that, after a five-year period marked by economic reforms, social protests and the pandemic, nobody wants to take anything for granted. There is a background of discontent in France: Macron is detested in sectors of society, who see him as the president of the rich, an arrogant figure out of touch with ordinary France.
In the previous presidential elections, in 2017, Macron also faced Le Pen in the second round. Macron got 66% of the vote. LePen, 34%. This time the margin would be much narrower. Marine Le Pen, since then, has softened the image of her, marked by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, patriarch of the European extreme right. The daughter has repudiated the father’s anti-Semitism and his openly xenophobic and racist positions. She has gained experience and places as much or more emphasis on social and economic issues than on immigration. Her candidacy, in the current campaign, of the ultra talk show host Éric Zemmour, has helped her appear moderate.
“The extreme right is still there and it is still represented by a clan,” Macron said in Dijon, referring to the Le Pen (to Jean-Marie and Marine we must add Marion, the niece, who supports Zemmour). And, alluding to the double ultra candidacy, Le Pen and Zemmour, he added: “We already know what happens with these things: it will end up in tandem.”
The campaign, although in a minor tone, at times lights up. It happened on Sunday, during a Zemmour rally on the Trocadero esplanade in Paris, the crowd shouted: “Macron, murderer.” Zemmour did nothing to silence her. He later claimed that he had not heard the screaming.
“There are two hypotheses. The first is indignity, and it is the one that seems most credible to me, it does not seem a surprise to me, “reacted Macron in Dijon. “The second”, he joked, “is the lack of knowledge of a very important five-year reform (…). Now Social Security reimburses hearing aids, glasses and dental prostheses (…). I invite the candidate who hears badly to equip himself at a lower cost”.
It was an exception in a campaign in which the president prefers to remain on the pedestal of the head of state: while his rivals fight in television debates or at rallies, he participates in EU and NATO summits, talks with Putin and with Joe Biden. While the president deals with world peace and war, his rivals kick France.
International stature is an advantage. And an inconvenience. How to excite France with so few meetings and few public events? How to recover the enthusiasm of 2017? So Macron was the change; now it’s continuity. In times of crisis, no experiments: this is his message.
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