Patrick Cohen interviewed Manuel Valls on France Inter this morning. It was a curious colloquy. Cohen, an experienced interviewer (though evidently afflicted with a cold), kept trying to get Valls, an experienced interviewee, to softpedal the boilerplate and say something substantive, but Valls was determined to make the most of his 10 minutes and include every talking point he seemed to be reading from the back of his hand. Until, that is, Cohen brought up the subject of the use of article 49-3 to ram through unpopular legislation, and Valls, to Cohen's astonishment, said he was agin' it--despite having had recourse to the provision several times during his prime ministership. He also said he would eliminate the tax on overtime pay--one of Sarkozy's key measures, which Hollande rescinded. And despite having been prime minister as recently as last week, Valls presented himself as the "anti-system" candidate and declared that in fact journalists like Cohen represented the system.
It was a baffling performance, at once a defense of Hollande's (and his own) record and an attempted repudiation of it, or at any rate an effort to place himself in the position of "outsider" running against the errors of "the government," which he himself headed. Valls' indifference to reality rivals Trump's (which is saying something), yet his style could not be more different. He remains the aggressive, no-nonsense, get-things-done politician he has always been but is now determined to pretend that he had nothing to do with the aggressive, no-nonsense, get-things-done prime minister whose ruthlessness made his president so unpopular and steadily whittled away at his own approval rating while alienating much of his own party--the very party whose members' primary votes he is now courting.
This has all the earmarks of a losing strategy, and I would be very surprised if the next polls do not show a precipitous drop in support for Valls. Le Monde today suggests (h/t Greg Brown) that the Hamon camp sees some hope that he will emerge as the spoiler on the left, in a position to emerge as Fillon did on the right as the candidate of those who reject the early press favorites. Perhaps. My guess is rather that les déçus du vallsisme will desert to Macron, who offers a similar social liberal platform in a rather less off-putting package and who has somehow escaped the need to twist himself into a pretzel in order to justify his role in the Hollande regime while at the same time pretending that as president he would be able to overcome the resistance on the left without recourse to the "brutal" methods that Valls now disowns, as if he weren't their very embodiment.