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?