Monday, November 28, 2016

What Did France's Conservative Primary Election Mean?

Last week, I wrote about the first round of the French conservative party’s primary elections, which to my surprise ended the political career of Nicolas Sarkozy and resulted in the unexpected success of François Fillon. Yesterday, in the second round, Fillon defeated his rival, Alain Juppé, in a landslide.
Fillon’s domestic proposals: He wants to cut half a million public sector jobs, end the 35-hour work week, raise the retirement age, and scrap the wealth tax. For this reason, he calls himself a Thatcherite.
But I cannot imagine Margaret Thatcher taking the posture he has toward Russia. Or toward America, for that matter.
“Islamic totalitarianism, American imperialism, the dynamism of the Asian continent all threaten Europe. Don’t let them defeat us!”
“Now what is that supposed to mean?” asked Arun.
This is the first time I’ve seen the expression “American imperialism”—exclusively far left in pedigree—in a long time. And I have no memory of having ever heard it uttered by a high-level politico in a French party of government, and by one who may be elected president of the republic no less. … If a President Fillon makes nice with Vladimir Putin over and above France’s relationship with Germany, that will mark a sea change of major proportions on the continent—and in geopolitics more generally.
Juppé: “Our priority is to combat ISIS. But that cannot be a reason, like Russia, to liquidate the entire respectable opposition to Assad’s regime, to ally with Assad, who is responsible for the death of more than 300,000 of his compatriots.”
Fillon, just before the beginning of Russia’s Syrian campaign: “We must help Assad’s regime, with all of its defects, which is on the verge of collapse.”
As for that — this morning, Erick Erickson at the Resurgent wrote, “It is impossible to take seriously any person who thinks Donald Trump is a threat to freedom and democracy when that same person mourns the loss of Fidel Castro.” Quite so. The left disqualifies itself from seriousness when it embraces dictators. So does the right. 
The French press is reporting that the Russian trolls were out in force in support of Fillon over Juppé. The Nouvel Obs quotes Marie Peltier, a historian whose speciality, interestingly is the rise of conspiracy theories on the Internet:
A few days before the first round of the primary, French far-right networks, linked to and financed by Russia, began a violent campaign on social media, most notably on Twitter, to support Fillon and destroy Juppé, attacking him, particularly, on the theme of Islam … it seems that a bit before the primary, the Kremlin decided to help Fillon from the right, not just Marine Le Pen, and at the same time help [far-left loon Jean-Luc] Mélenchon.
Did this have an impact on the election results? I don’t know.
What does Fillon’s victory mean for France? It’s too soon to say. The elections will take place in May, and as our new member Fidelio102 put it, between now and then we could see “a major terrorist offensive, a collapse of the Euro following an Italian banking crisis; all sorts of game-changers are possible.” I agree. As I wrote:
We seem to have entered a world of radical uncertainty. Or perhaps I should be more precise: We’ve entered a world in which we’re aware of our uncertainty.
I’ve lost any confidence I had that my gut feelings about where things are headed, politically, are worth much. I’ll note my gut feeling about France not because I’d bet a dime on my own prognostications, at this point — I’ve been consistently wrong for a while now. It’s been a long losing streak. But my gut feeling is that France is in no way sold on the idea of cutting back the state. I suspect what people really wish is that they could undo their knowledge that the left hasn’t delivered. If the [socialists] hadn’t been in power all this time, I figure they’d be channelling all the throw-the-bums-out energy into putting them in power.
I’m guessing Fillon won precisely because Juppé characterized him as “too radical.” People want a radical change. Juppé tried to sell himself as a practical, realistic version of Fillon — [and the voters] said, non.
But now, I wrote, Fillon will have to sell himself as a practical, realistic version of Le Pen. How else can he run? Le Pen is selling more socialism (with an ugly nativist twist). Fillon is telling people that they’ve run out of other people’s money. So which way, realistically, are all those former PS voters going to go? I figure they’ll go to Le Pen.
The conventional wisdom says Fillon will win the election. Le Monde gives him “a good chance of winning against the National Front and a comatose left.” Polls show that if the election were held today, Fillon would take 26 percent of the vote (against 24 percent for Le Pen) in the first round, then 67 percent against her 33 percent in the final round.
The conventional wisdom is probably right, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

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