Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Droites Innombrables

René Rémond saw three main currents of right-wing political culture in France. To judge by the results of the UMP elections, there are now at least twice that many. Looked at more closely, however, the many currents reduce to two: one that wants to make race and national identity a key tenet of the Right, and one that does not, that regards such a move as unwise "both politically and morally" (as François Fillon said in his statement following Copé victory in the leadership contest; my italics).  For all the creative nomenclature (Droite forte, Droite humaniste, Droite gaulliste, Droite sociale, Droite populaire, Droite anti-division), the key tactical question is, How do we beat the Front National? And the respectable Right has two answers: go after their voters where they live, or else continue to reject the FN program and leadership as beyond the pale of reasonable discourse.

Beyond the issue of identity, there is nevertheless a spectrum of views on how to counter the FN's program of protectionism and support of the working class. Here, the nuances among the various currents of the UMP (and of Borloo's neocentrist movement) become slightly more interesting. A number of deputies expressed fear that the victorious Copé would try to lock down the party, suppress dissenting voices on these issues, and press forward with his own version of Sarkozy's droite décomplexée. If he does, they threaten to leave the party--and the threat is not idle. Copé's narrow victory lends substance to Borloo's contention that there is no longer any justification for a single party to claim a monopoly of the right-wing electorate. We can look back to the good old days of the UDF-RPR rivalry.

As for those who believe that Copé is merely a stalking horse for a Sarkozy comeback in 2017, I say this: while it is true that Sarkozy retains substantial support among UMP militants, I have my doubts about a future candidacy. He goes before the judges tomorrow. Even if he survives the several investigations into shady campaign financing allegations, he is likely to succumb to his own desire to earn large amounts of money by capitalizing on his political connections. He stated this as his ambition post-politique. I suspect that he will not be too scrupulous about how he earns that money, and that his choices will make it impossible for him to resume a political career.

As for Copé, I think the UMP has just made a fatal choice. The close vote reveals a deeply divided party, and Copé is far less popular among the broader electorate than Fillon, despite years of exposure at the national level and continuous cultivation of the press. Although Copé "magnanimously" offered Fillon the meaningless position of "vice-president of the UMP," Fillon, who emerged from the contest stronger than he entered it, indicated no particular desire to associate himself with the Copéisé UMP. He now stands equal to his rival as the standard-bearer of the Right and has numerous options to consider in a reconfigured right party lineup. I think we are in for an interesting period of realignment. Copé's victory will be short-lived. One sign of this was the remarkably strong rejection of Copé today by François Baroin, who normally plays his cards closer to the vest.