Saturday, March 4, 2017

Twisting Slowly in the Wind

One almost feels for François Fillon. It can't be easy to realize one's life's ambition only to have the prize snatched away by the exposure of a bit of peculation you'd been getting away with for your entire career. It's easy to understand why he feels aggrieved. But his lucidity seems to have deserted him. He is beginning to look even more obtuse than Hollande, who continued for several years after his sell-by date to insist that he still had a chance to be re-elected, even when everyone else agreed that he didn't.

By now Fillon should have gotten the message. His campaign manager and chief spokesman have resigned. He's had Sarkozy on the phone several times telling him that the jig was up. Alain Juppé's lieutenants have been spreading the word that Prince Hamlet has overcome his irresolution and is ready to snatch the crown from the usurper (but remember, it didn't end well for Hamlet). And now, having accused his enemies of fomenting civil war against him, Fillon is calling for his own troops to mount a counter-attack tomorrow at Trocadéro, in the hope that this rag-tag army of irregulars will be enough to face down the Czar and his savage hordes. Failing that, it's "Plan B for Bérézina." The metaphor is looking more and more apt, as Fillonistes desert in droves and die in the cold.

This "French carnage" (I borrow from Donald Trump, une fois n'est pas coutume) is horrible to watch, but there may be worse to come. If Juppé is the replacement, as seems likely, today's conventional wisdom--that round 2 will be a Macron-Le Pen contest in which Macron will win--will be fit to wrap fish in. Juppé will no doubt drive some considerable number of LR voters into the FN camp while repatriating some who had already defected to Macron. Back when Juppé was the favorite to be the LR nominee (I know, it seems like ancient history), the smart money had it that most PS voters would flock to Juppé in order to stop Le Pen. But now, who knows? Many will hesitate between Macron and Juppé. Will familiarity breed more contempt than novelty breeds affection? Will the sidelining of Fillon enhance Le Pen's chances or diminish them?

It's hard to dope out, despite a few instant polls, with one even showing a first round with Juppé on top, Macron second, and Le Pen eliminated. A consummation devoutly to be wished, except by all those on the far right and far left who will feel caught in the mucky quicksand of the mushy center--and remember that the number of such dispossessed could well amount to more than half of the electorate, an indication of the rapidly declining legitimacy of the Fifth Republic itself. France could well find itself with a president judged sane by Europe's elites presiding over a nation angered an electoral process that has been the opposite of sane. Indeed, it's the craziest election I've witnessed in half a century of observing the French scene.

As Laurel used to say to Hardy, "What a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Ollie!" What a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Fillie. And for what? A château in the Sarthe? One almost feels nostalgic for the bling-bling president with his fancy watches and yachts and supermodels. His vices were so much less stodgy. It's 2017, after all. Qui voudrait investir en pierre quand il pourrait diner chez Fouquet's? One has to learn to sin with one's times. Fillon is a character out of the Third Republic, not the Fifth. Perhaps that's what will have doomed him in the end.


Anonymous said...

F Fillon is a fraud. A Tartuffe he certainly
is. But also, something must have gone wrong in his childhood years and adolescence. One can suspect a tremendous case of false self and hollow personality construction with many a fake rebellion, that, no doubt, a few of his enemies and his parliament friends have long ago detected.

The Christine Kelly biography of 2007 (le secret et l'ambition)should have been a warning of this picture. And English psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott is a must read to try and understand such a demented behaviour. No wonder either that M. W. Poutine has such a strong appeal on double F.

bernard said...

I am amazed that when we are talking about Juppe, it's smart money and when we are talking about Macron it's conventional wisdom. Personally I don't see much of a difference between smart money and conventional wisdom apart from the fact that we use one to be pejorative and the other to be admirative. Neither are more often right, ie. lucky, or wrong than the other, ie. unlucky.

Well, so-called smart money is betting on MLP having a chance in the second round as evidenced by the widening of the 10 year French-German spread, and we can frankly ask ourselves how smart exactly is smart money and arbitrage smart money for a very healthy profit. Not very smart if you ask me and I might add, as usual (smart money does sometimes gets lucky as Krugman once demonstrated with elementary probability theory, but that was not a demonstration that smart money is smart). I very much prefer to listen to conventional wisdom as expressed by all the "idiots" who can read a political map and judge what scenarios might come to pass.

Dear old Juppe might have had a chance 6 months ago, ie. pre-Macron, but that doesn't mean he has one now. 6 months ago, the idea was that Juppe would cover the centre and moderate right and that, then, electors from the left would elect him in a second round to avoid the shame of France having MLP as President. Today, the second part of this statement holds, but the first part does not.
Let us imagine that Fillon gives up (I still do not think he will, but let us imagine). Juppe then has to make a choice in a hurry: he can either run to the centre or he can run to the right. He cannot do both as the French have already had the pleasure of discovering Fillon's hard right line.

Suppose, first, that he runs to the centre. Oops, the centre is already covered by the man smart money never saw coming, and now we have two guys covering the centre, one who will look old compared to the new kid on the block. And then we have hard right electors who would be defecting to MLP (see poll movements over the past few days, it's informative). Getting past the first round would become very difficult for Juppe with such a strategy.

Alternatively, he can run run a hard right campaign, a la Fillon, but without the judicial issues (as a former convict, he knows about justice). Well, the hard right is worth 20-24% (he would have to win back some from MLP, which is not easy). Meanwhile, moderate centrist electors would stick with Macron, who is polling in the 25% region, and some electors from the left, presently supporting Hamon, might well judge that, in the end, faced with the inescapable sad fact that Hamon has zero chance of making it to the second round, Macron making it to the second round is preferable to Juppe hard right making it to the second round, and act on that belief (as they have started to do over the past week or so, I personally made that calculation some months ago). It is very difficult to see Juppe making it to the second round, especially if Macron, as I believe he will, overtakes even MLP in the first round.

In fact, my view is that Juppé's reluctance to step in is not related to wounded pride as many have said, but rather related to a political equation that has now become extremely hard to solve for him and his ambition and that he is fully aware of this. Once a vacuum is filled, it is filled and conditions have changed.

The moral is that strategic political positioning becomes very different when there are three main players compared to when there were two.

In any case, my guess is that Fillon will be staying in. As an economist, I know the role of price incentives on human behaviour, and there is a massive price incentive on Fillon staying, of the order of 6 to 10 million for his micro-party extension of self and family. Money talks, you know. THe comite politique of LR can rage and order, only Fillon can decide to bow out. And I am not even mentioning his psychology.

Tim said...

Much of the "smart money" doesn't like Macron because they believe(and correctly) will attempt to impose a "punishment" Brexit as Boris Johnson puts it on the UK something that will cost the "smart money" people a lot of money.

Tim said...

Columns like this below in the Telegraph goes to show the dislike the London based "smart money" has for Macron.

Alexandra Marshall said...

Too bad they don't get a vote, Tim. Macron's hard Brexit line smartly tickles one of the oldest rivalries in the book. Uniting French a lot easier when against something like the British.

Lapinot said...

The word 'smart' and Simon Heffer (the writer of that piece) don't belong anywhere near each other. He's a professional Colonel Blimp, voting against the equalisation of the age of consent, blaming drunken fans for the Hillsborough disaster and whittering on about 'liberal society'.

He also wrote a book about the importance of correct English grammar which was excoriated by those who actually know a thing or two about correct English grammar:

bert said...

Spot on, Lapinot. He's a socially conservative Thatcherite, which would presumably make him a Filloniste if his mind wasn't completely insular. He's been around forever, and has always had the air of someone keeping a very tight lid on a hideous sexual perversion.
By the way, you have his newspaper to thank for the Penelope video.

bert said...

That last point about the video is relevant, given his dark mutterings about socialist conspiracy. And the Telegraph also had the scoop that led to a huge parliamentary expenses scandal in the UK not so long ago that ended a bunch of careers and sent several MPs to prison.

D Harrison said...

Quick correction: it was Oliver Hardy who said, "Well, Stan, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into." Not the reverse. (Sorry, L&H are dear to me.)

Lapinot said...

'Well, Fran, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into'?

From what I could follow in my very poor French, there seems to have been something of that in Juppé's comments declining his candidacy.