The long knives are out at the UMP. The trouble is that the wounded king, whom all the princelings are prepared to do in, has the support of 78 percent of the rank-and-file. It's not easy to explain why the lambs of the UMP are so eager to be led to slaughter. The extravagance of Sarkozy and the man to whom he bequeathed the party, Jean-François Copé, has left the UMP in debt to the tune of €74 million. Sarkozy's desperation to be re-elected nearly bankrupted the party, not only in cash terms but also in ideological terms, since he virtually erased the distinction between the UMP and the FN on the advice of Patrick Buisson, a turncoat of the extreme right who turned out to be a double agent, secretly recording Sarkozy's conversations even before the judges installed their wiretaps, which have allegedly revealed yet another vein of "active corruption." It's no wonder the deputy Bernard Debré says that if the UMP chooses Sarkozy as its once and future leader, the party will be committing "political suicide."
The trail of devastation is so complete that one wonders how 78 percent support among the party faithful is even remotely possible. Yet the polls seem to say it's there, and the caution of Sarkozy's would-be deposers suggests that they, who are presumably in intimate contact with the base, believe it's real.
So what is the basis of Sarkolatry? I submit that one saw a fair sample of it in the interview he gave to J.-P. Elkabbach immediately after his mise en examen. It's the combination of chutzpah and pugnacity, of punchiness and poise. Sarkozy always evinces confidence. He rarely stumbles. He aligns sentences with the rapidity and lethality of machine-gun bullets, forcing his interlocutors to keep their heads down. No one dares to ask the devastating question. No one dares to say, as Fillon said to Copé in the party committee meeting that deposed him, "Je ne te crois pas, Jean-François." To be sure, Sarko is an ex-president, and the residual majesty of the royal presidency may be intimidating to some, but Sarkozy should by now be vulnerable. He trails so many casseroles, as one says in French, that he should present a broad target. But no one yet dares to strike the fatal blow, unless it's Edwy Plenel at Mediapart, who has been striking fatal blows for a decade now without obvious effect.
Or maybe it's just that Sarkozy is so much more entertaining to watch than most other politicians. His stylish shamelessness has no equal. Bill Clinton was equally shameless and had a certain style but lacked Sarkozy's tough bravado; there was always something vulnerable in Clinton's brazenness. Richard Nixon was shameless, of course, but also styleless. Some have compared Sarkozy to Berlusconi, but Berlusconi is a guttersnipe compared to the Frenchman: the vulgarity of his shamelessness is pathetic. A woman of Carla Bruni's class would not be interested in bunga bunga. Sarkozy is a political phenomenon. No doubt about it. It's a pity that he couldn't parlay his talents into some achievement worth remembering.