So, the question of the hour is this: Has Sarkozy fallen so low in the polls that the Right risks being edged out in the first round of the presidential elections by the Extreme Right? I don't think we're there yet, but Patrick Jarreau raises several interesting points. First, if Sarkozy goes far enough in FNizing the UMP, he risks driving a part of his electorate into abstention or even a vote for the candidate of the Left, especially if that candidate is Strauss-Kahn. On the other hand, by raising issues that seem to be grist to Marine Le Pen's mill, Sarkozy helps her to rise in the polls, but this could force wavering right-wing voters to circle the wagons around him for fear of plunging the country into just such a scenario, 2002 reversed. So perhaps his encouragement of the FN is deliberate, like Mitterrand's two and a half decades ago. A dangerous game either way.
And to think that I was foolish enough to write several years ago that Sarkozy's one great achievement had been to marginalize the FN. I failed to reckon with several factors: the generational shift in the FN, with its concomitant reorientation on themes of economic populism and nationalism (akin to the de-emphasizing of social and culture-war issues in favor of hard-core tax and economic issues on the US right); the massive rejection of Sarkozy by the popular classes among which he had gained support in 2007; and the political acumen of Marine Le Pen, who has been able to exploit this shift in sentiment much more effectively than the Left of the Left, which, curiously enough, has failed to "modernize," for lack of a better word, its "communications strategy."