The tocsin has been sounded. Marine Le Pen's astonishing rise in the polls signals a rejection not just of Sarkozy but of the existing political class as a whole by a substantial and growing segment of the electorate. If the Socialist Party wants to win the next election, it should react now by advancing the date of its primary to June. This will oblige Strauss-Kahn to fish or cut bait. The time for dithering is over. The candidate of the Socialist Party needs to be chosen soon and needs to be in the trenches from the date of the primary, fighting to stop the ras-le-bol defections to the extreme right.
The challenge is particularly acute for DSK. The economic populism that the Front National has lately made its fonds de commerce is diametrically opposed to what Strauss-Kahn stands for. He needs to make a forceful case for France's continued engagement in the global economy, and he needs to look working-class voters in the eye as he makes that case. And if he doesn't have the stomach for this, then he should stand aside and let someone else try. And whoever does make the run should seek to create une union sacrée: do what it takes to bring the ecologists on board, perhaps woo Mélenchon back into the fold (I don't discount the possibility), and make an ouverture to the center--more importantly at the level of the rank and file, perhaps, than of the leadership. There should be many nervous voters in the center susceptible to an appeal for un vote utile in the first round.
I have no doubt that Marine Le Pen will not be the next president of France. If she does eliminate the candidate of the center left or the center right in the first round, the remaining candidate will win. But a president by default is not what France needs. If the left wants that president to be someone other than Sarkozy, it needs to show that it cares what people say even when it isn't election day.