Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sarkozy vs. Juppé

Among my French friends, the working assumption today is that the Left has no chance of winning the presidency in 2017, hence the important battle is for the nomination of the UMP, since my friends also assume that Marine Le Pen will make it to the second round but cannot win the presidency. For the sake of argument, let's grant these two assumptions (though both are open to challenge). What will happen on the Right?

It seems clear that Sarkozy will win the presidency of the UMP, despite a strong challenge from Bruno Le Maire. Sarkozy's support among the rank-and-file of Sarkonostalgics is simply too strong to overcome. His support among voters at large, however, is much weaker than among UMP militants, so the next obstacle becomes the organization of the UMP primary, to which Sarkozy has now committed himself (after some initial hesitation). Who will be allowed to vote? The party, emulating the Socialist success with an open primary, committed itself to follow suit, but the devil is in the details, and a Sarko in charge of the party apparatus will surely attempt to tailor the rules in his favor.

Sarkozy's second trump card is Juppé's age, of which he has already begun to make an issue. There is also Juppé's conviction for corruption, but as Juppé himself points out, Sarkozy is hardly in a position to claim clean hands in the matter of campaign financing. Juppé's fondest hope, in fact, is that the courts will deal Sarko a KO. Things are moving rather rapidly in the Bygmalion case, but none of the many affairs in which Sarkozy is involved is likely to reach a conclusion before he is elected party leader. So there is a tricky passage ahead.

Then there is the question of platforms. How exactly will Juppé differentiate himself from the "recentered" Sarkozy? Patrick Buisson, the man responsible for Sarko's droitisation in 2012, threatens to reveal any number of dark secrets from his devil's kitchen:

Il a cru me tuer. Il va voir que je ne suis pas mort. Ah, il va voir ce qu’il va voir !
Indeed, Buisson goes so far as to predict that Sarkozy will be obliged to stand aside as candidate:
Il ne pourra pas se présenter devant les Français en 2017, il ne pourra pas même se présenter à la primaire. Il fait système avec François Hollande.
 Today we learn that Chirac has endorsed Juppé (no surprise there). Will this carry any weight with UMP militants or simply remind them, as Sarkozy observes, that Juppé was prime minister 20 years ago and not exactly a harbinger of a more radiant tomorrow?


Anonymous said...

That the '17 election will involve a 2nd tour face-off between the UMP candidate and Marine LP is the view of just about everyone, including Thomas Legrand on France Inter this morning
2½ years is a long time in politics but it's pretty clear that Hollande is toast in '17, as will be any Socialist who could possibly replace him. But I still don't believe for a minute that Sarkozy will succeed in his comeback, not with all his casseroles and what will essentially be the same Buisson-inspired hard right platform (sans Buisson). Sarkozy cannot play to both the increasingly Tea Party-ish UMP base and centrists. And he remains anathema to the left. If he tries to rig the rules of the primary to keep out non-UMP members there will certainly be another candidate in '17 on the moderate right/center, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if it's Juppé. As for Juppé's age, this is irrelevant. It won't matter a whit (and it never does: cf. Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Ronald Reagan etc etc). Likewise with Juppé's judicial conviction or having been PM 20 years ago, which will in no way count against him. As for a radiant tomorrow, if Sarko promises this he'll be laughed out of the election.


James Conran said...

Besides Sarkozy's own problems with the law there's also the point that Sarkozy appointed the man to high office, which presumably will make it hard for him to openly suggest that he is somehow not digne for the presidency.

Massilian said...

I fully agree with Arun.
Nicolas Sarkozy can't and won't make it back. French voters are no fools. His arrogance, his ridiculous "j'ai changé", his electoralist volatile proposals, can't fool too many people, right, left or center.
He is a man of the past (maybe even more than Juppé !), he had his chance but he blew it, he is a looser and a con man for the public even if no judge can nail him down. People pay attention to him (as Tapie) for the show's sake, he is more fun to watch than François... but Sarkozy is blinded by his ambition, he will go down the drain and make a fool of himself.

bernard said...

Arun makes a number of valid points. I just want to mention two points that could lead to some unexpected suspense.

Remember 2005. If 2017 were to turn out as a Sarkozy - Le Pen competition, I would predict that the "elite" versus the "people" competition rapidly turns into a referendum on Europe. All bets are off. Certainly Europe differentiates Sarkozy and Le Pen better than any other big theme, least of all morals.

Secondly, as much as I detest Sarkozy (more than the next guy I guess, in hypothesis above, I am of course staying home), it is a gross mistake to underestimate his political talent and his intrinsic brutality. I pity the centrist candidate that would emerge ex-nihilo to compete against Sarkozy as his/her political life expectancy could suffer greatly.

A third - totally unrelated - point is that in the Chirac support stories, the more interesting is that Bernadette clearly doesn't like Juppe at all, whereas he was admittedly her husband's best friend for so long. I don't know the story but I am sure there is a very personal and interesting story there. Or is just that he wrecked Chirac's presidency within 6 months of him having gained it ?

Art Goldhammer said...

Frankly, I think Sarko-detestation can be overdone. Brutality? Is he more brutal than Hollande, who had PS frondeurs dismissed from their committee assignments? Were the bouclier fiscal and the tax breaks on heures sup more brutal reforms than the CICE? His (alleged) crimes are for the most part related to campaign financing and covering up irregularities (the Tapie business being perhaps an exception). His droitisation, all things considered, was relatively restrained. I, for one, certainly would not stay home in a race between Sarkozy and Le Pen, and for precisely the reason that Bernard invokes: Europe is worth defending, malgré tout. This comment is intended as a provocation, so please be provoked.

Mitch Guthman said...


You are forgetting that even if Juppé would win the support of France as a whole, that's not who gets to vote in the UMP primary. Sarkozy commands the loyalty of a very significant portion of the UMP base and, perhaps more importantly, he would appear to also command the unwavering loyalty of those who will make the rules. To paraphrase Stalin, whoever makes the rules will rule.

The second round will presumably present a binary choice between Le Pen and Sarko. Everyone will be presented with that exact choice, including the magistrates, so my baseless speculation is that if they haven't bagged him before the UMP selects its candidate (which seems extremely unlikely), they will probably give Sarko a pass on all of the many affairs in which he is probably culpable. For the good of France.

So, if it's true that Le Pen can't win, then Sarkozy will be the next president of France. Hollande should resign and let Sarkozy get on with the job of turning France into a German province.

Mitch Guthman said...


Under ordinary circumstances, Sarkozy’s running on a hard right agenda might indeed alienate the centrists and the Gaullists and drive them towards the left. But this time there is no place on the left for them to go. They are now in the same boat as the leftists because there is no longer a meaningful party of the left or even a party of what was once the center to attract them—everyone, especially the PS, is competing on entirely the right while also seeking to win the support of the financiers and other assorted eurotrash. The PS is rapidly abandoning the traditional issues and constituencies of the left to Le Pen. My guess is that nobody is going to reach out to the left or the middle class or the workers, which makes those groups a fertile hunting ground for Le Pen.

Consequently, I don’t see where a hard right and austerity agenda will do Sarkozy any real harm since he will still (in your analysis) be more acceptable to the self-proclaimed centrists than the unthinkable Le Pen. What’s more, he won’t be promising anybody a radiant tomorrow; he’ll just be promising to be somebody other than Marine Le Pen—just as Hollande’s sole virtue consisted of his not being Nicolas Sarkozy.

There also will be no candidate to Sarkozy’s left in the first round even if he does nobble Juppé in the UMP primary. Sarkozy may be greatly detested by the left but if Juppé follows the conventional wisdom, his first step will be to make himself even more detested by the left than Sarkozy. Indeed, you may be sure that the chattering classes will judge his worth and his suaveness by the speed and thoroughness with which he antagonizes the left and positions himself only a few millimeters to Le Pen's left. It is assumed by the political class that the candidate opposing her will pickup the left and the center by default because whoever faces her in the second round will, almost by definition, be less evil than Marine Le Pen.

To be clear, this will continue to be a winning strategy only until it abruptly stops being a winning strategy. I believe that the voters of the left have become so demoralized that in 2017 they may simply turn off, tune out, and drop out (i.e., stay home) or, worse, they will vote for Le Pen because she will be a placeholder for their unhappiness with “Europe,” with the elites in their own parties and because she hasn’t explicitly rejected the economic ideals of economic growth and the social welfare state, which implies that she might embrace them and save the French economy. Which will save people’s jobs and pensions. There might even be a small opening for hope that their children and grandchildren might have a better future than is being planned for them by the eurotrash elites.

I see the constellations aligning themselves for a Le Pen victory in 2017. This is why I have been harping on the need for a revitalization of the left with a manifesto for growth and the protection of everything that has been gained since the end of the War.

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Massilian said...

I don't bet on Sarkozy winning the UMP (or whatever it'll be called) primaries. The present "thrill" at the idea of Sarkozy's return at the head of the UMP will cool down. If the primaries do happen and if they are "open", IMHO he will loose these primaries. Marine Le Pen can not win a presidential election. Period. 2017 will see a massive electoral shift towards the center and Sarko is not the man. Besides all fine tuning of polls and speculations, Sarko cannot surprise anymore, cannot be believed anymore, we already tried Sarko, cette soupe est froide.

FrédéricLN said...

I often criticized as short-sighted the "prospective analyses" French media base upon… very short terme opinion polls. But this time, I think the polls hold.

Mr Sarkozy's victory for UMP presidency is almost certain: if not, contesters with meaningful supporting networks would have run (Fillon, Juppé, Copé, Bertrand…).

Mr Sarkozy's victory in a primary election is by far the most likely outcome: he gained nearly 49% of nationwide votes in 2012, so he is hardly detested by right-oriented voters, esp. the 1 to 8% of militants who who go voting in a primary. The maneuver about "including the center or not" is void: center-oriented behave quite like independents in the US, only a few of them would vote in primaries.

Moreover, many FN-oriented voters might go and vote for Sarkozy against Juppé, as an opportunity to support the least-politically-correct leader.

From my point of view, the nearest case in history is Mr Netanyahu's comeback in 2005. Even if the man was criticized, he gained a very strong position — that he still retains.

The FN should obtain, imho, a mass success at the 2015 local then regional elections — 30% or more at the regional elections would not surprise me.

Mr Sarkozy will be able to describe himself before in the political milieu as the only alternative to FN. Whatever his policy agenda. Moreoever, the more rightist and provocative the agenda, the more supported by FN-oriented voters, the more likely the self-description will be.

The left looks like mesmerized so far. They just hope that it won't happen, or that, after irt will have happened, other days will come.

Can a democratic, green, progressive, republican (in the French meaning), liberal (in the American meaning) alternative, rise and get organized before 2017?

I hope it will happen, and believe it is still possible. But nothing so far goes in that direction.

Mitch Guthman said...


By hook or by crook, Sarkozy will almost certainly be the candidate of the UMP, which, in turn, will almost certainly be the dominant political party. Aside from the fact that he’s leading in the polls, it would appear that his loyalists would have control of the party apparatus, which, in turn, suggests that Sarkozy will have a fat thumb on the scales during any sort of open primary against Juppé. Again, it’s a simple principle: He who makes the rules, will rule.

As for a supposed desire by the French for centrist leadership, as I’ve said many times before, if the supposed appetite for centrism existed, François Bayrou would be president and the Mouvement Démocrate would be dominant everywhere in France.

In any case, where will the center of French politics be for the 2017 présidentiel and who will be occupying it? At the moment, Juppé has no organization for running a campaign independent of the UMP’s resources and also he has a extraordinarily blank slate for a man with a lifetime in politics. There is nobody occupying the left and (Bayrou) the man who occupied the center previously seems strangely inert. Worse, there is not so much as a sliver of space between any of the prospective candidates except for Le Pen on the economy—all are totally committed to austerity and to letting the depression run its course. In other words, at least on the economy, all the candidates are basically Sarkozy. France has basically been suffering through Sarkozy second term and there’s no candidate offering anything better in 2017 and several who are much worse.

But, on the other hand, and uniquely in his favor, Sarkozy has a better relationship with Merkel than any of the other potential candidates and that’s important because if France is going to be essentially a German province, you want a “president” who has the boss’s favor. So there’s that.

As for whether Le Pen can win: I have said repeatedly that I believe she can win and I’ve explained why. At the moment, “Europe” is the placeholder for the dominant economic philosophy of austerity and liquidationism. When Le Pen rails against “Europe” she is implicitly offering something to the voters that every poll shows they want: An end to austerity, the creation of a front against Germany, the protection of people’s retirements, the protection of the social welfare state, and so forth. Normally, all these would be the promises of the Parti socialiste but that is no longer the case. Consequently, Le Pen is free to poach among the left and the center.

The prevailing philosophy seems to be that everyone competes only for the votes of right-leaning voters partly because the left is déclassé and out of favor with the interests that now finance all political campaigns while offering the promise of cushy retirements for the political class and because the left (who needs government to function and provide services to the people) will have no choice to vote for the least bad alternative.

At the same time, the prevailing wisdom is that a candidate can sail as close to the right as he or she wishes because the voters of the right understand that their first choice, Le Pen, can’t win so they will settle for whoever panders to them the most. This was always Copé’s attraction and I believe this was the logic underlying Sarkozy’s droitisation in 2012. But it is a strategy that can backfire because if the people of the right see that Le Pen is in the second round against a man of the right, what incentive do they have to vote for their second choice? None—they will uniformly vote for her.

Ultimately, then, that gives Le Pen supremacy on the right and the ability to make significant inroads on the voters of the left, many of whom will need to find new political homes since there will apparently be no authentic candidate of the left competing. An appeal to French nationalism will perhaps allow her to gain some support among the Gaullists who otherwise regard her as anathema. That looks like a potential majority. So why can’t she win?

FrédéricLN said...

@ MItch Huthman: I agree on much, not on "Sarkozy has a better relationship with Merkel than any of the other potential candidates" — Sarkozy's relationship with Mrs Merkel was and remains absolutely awful, if existent. None of the understands any word or move of the other one (or would find it meaningful). As we say in French, "l'eau et le feu".

Of course Mrs Merkel would consider a victory of Mrs Le Pen as an awful and frightening event. But under the personal relationship respect, it's hard to imagine a worse 'tandem' than Sarkozy-Merkel.

Anonymous said...

My blog post on this is up at Arun with a View. Bonne lecture ;-)