Le timing, as they say in French, could not have been better. Dominique Strauss-Kahn landed in Paris for the G20 just as a new poll was published putting him ahead of Sarkozy 61-39 in the second round of the 2012 presidential election. I am reminded, however, of the adage of American presidential politics that goes like this: "Whom the gods would destroy they make the frontrunner." DSK has nowhere to go but down, and down he will surely go once he gets into the race. But the new poll does suggest that the Right's effort to paint the IMF head as the representative of the "ultra-caviar" Left, outsider, Jew, capitalist tool, etc., has only boosted his ratings.
These really are rather foolish, if obvious, taunts coming from the party of Sarkozy and Copé, but, hey, any port in a storm. Sarkozy's problem in the end will be not to widen the gap that already exists between DSK and the left of the Left but rather to differentiate himself from DSK, whose basic view of the economy is not so different from his, but whom voters are likely to choose as the more competent of the two in achieving his ends. That, too, may be an illusion, but Sarkozy knows better than anyone that elections are won by appearances, not realities. And he will remember better than anyone that, in order to win in 2007, he had to differentiate himself from Chirac, whom in many respects he resembled, by investing familiar formulas with a sense of renewed energy and can-do-it pragmatism. In 2012, DSK will be the challenger, a position that offers certain advantages in a period of serious voter discontentment.