Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Sarkozy Coming Unglued?

President Sarkozy's behavior in recent weeks has been puzzling. He seems to be shedding the presidential carapace that had confined him for the past two years. Gravity is not his natural element. Among other signs that he has broken free I might mention his notorious voeux to the press corps, which Mediapart labeled "la cérémonie des adieux." Then there was his multinetwork press conference, in which he seemed to be proposing Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel for high office in France. And now comes word that he has lambasted his own ministers for disloyalty, double-dealing, and preparing secretly for his downfall.

These are perhaps signs of desperation. A more measured response to his low standing in the polls is the return of Emmanuelle Mignon, the "idea person" of his 2007 campaign, to the Sarkozy team. It's a bit late in the day, however, for the kind of in-depth candidate prep at which Mignon excelled in the period 2005-7. In any case, if 5 years of on-the-job training hasn't been enough to prepare the candidate, a 2-month crash course is not going to do the job. Nevertheless, Sarkozy is projecting confidence, going so far as to say today that Hollande had "expended all his cartridges" already. It may comfort the president to think so, and indeed, it seems to me that Hollande has chosen quite deliberately a "campaign light," mostly devoid of substance, which is the prerogative of front-runners everywhere: why raise divisive issues when there is no need? Hollande is keeping his powder dry for the simple reason that his opponent seems to be blowing up on his own, as the shrapnel flying in so many directions suggests.

Nevertheless, I expect Sarkozy to pull himself together for one last campaign, if only because his amour-propre has been wounded by the fact that so many in his own entourage assume he is going to lose. This is what explains his extraordinary outburst at Bruno Le Maire: "Ce n'est déjà pas facile d'avoir une stratégie, alors ceux qui en ont deux…", a-t-il dit. This, apparently in retaliation for Le Maire's admission that "mistakes had been made" on Sarkozy's watch. The president's ire is a little difficult to explain in rational terms: Hadn't he himself owned up to errors (such as the rebate on mortgage interest) in his press conference? Yes, of course, but it's one thing for the monarch to admit to fallibility before God and the People; it's another for a mere hireling to commit lèse-majesté. Sarkozy will bring everything he has to the fight to prove them all wrong. Cassez-vous, pauv' cons.

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