In France, The Center Holds … Mostly
This time, the polls were right: It’s going to be a second-round fight for the French presidency between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Polls also indicate the May 7 runoff will result in an overwhelming victory for Macron, who stands to win by 30 points or so. It’s hard to imagine how Le Pen makes up that ground in two weeks.
The extraordinary fact of today’s vote is that neither of France’s mainstream parties — the Gaullists of the right or the Socialists — made it to the second round. This is the first time that has ever happened in the Fifth Republic. Macron, a former investment banker and government minister, left the Socialist Party to form a more centrist movement built around himself. The official Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, placed fifth in today’s race — putting the future of the party itself in question. François Fillon, representing the mainstream right, began the race as the favorite, but never recovered from accusations of nepotism.
Imagine that the US presidency came down to a contest between a candidate of the hard-right and the center-left, neither of whom were a Republican or a Democrat. Something like that has happened in France. The Establishment is shaken, and shaken hard. It is rallying around Macron to prevent the National Front from claiming the Elysée Palace — and it will probably work. But the fact that neither mainstream party in France can claim enough support to make it into the second round of presidential voting — that’s incredible.
Consider that the hard-right Le Pen and hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon together polled over 40 percent of the first-round vote, slightly less than the combined total of Macron, Fillon, and Hamon. That reveals a tremendous unease within the French electorate. Macron will almost certainly win the second round, but will do little or nothing to deal with the immigration and Islamic radicalization crisis. The last time the establishment rallied to keep a Le Pen out of the Elysée, 2002, produced three presidencies — Gaullists Jacques Chirac, followed by Gaullist Nicolas Sarkozy, and then Socialist François Hollande — that accomplished nothing meaningful on that front. It is a time bomb.
French readers, what do you think?
UPDATE: The lede, in translation, of an editorial in the conservative daily Le Figaro. Here, “the right” means the mainstream conservatives:
So, the captain was lost. The unthinkable imposed itself. The impossible has happened. The right wing, which for five years has sacked the Socialists in all elections, the right, whose ideas and values have never been so preponderant in the depths of the country, this right from whom victory could not escape was, yesterday, dryly eliminated. While the desire for change, after a fifteen years unanimously considered calamitous, has never been so powerful, the right will not, for the first time in its history, represented in the second round of the presidential election.
UPDATE.2:Read TAC’s Scott McConnell on the results. He’s in Paris now. Excerpt:
I spent the first part of the evening at a Paris forum in the hip, boboish République quarter, where philosopher Michel Onfray discussed the election returns. Onfray is an atheist and has sometimes been labeled an anarchist, but he writes big bestselling books on large subjects, and with his emphasis on decentralization and opposition to Brussels he might be a bit of a crunchy con. He arrived on stage in jeans and an open black shirt. The audience is like anything you would find at a comparable event on Manhattan’s Upper West Side: elderly, somewhat professorial, definitely leaning left—I doubt there were any Le Pen voters there. Onfray announced he didn’t vote, hadn’t voted since 2005, when France held a referendum on the European Constitution and voted “No” by a decisive margin and the vote had precisely zero impact in slowing the advance of the European project. He held the stage for quite a while, basically deflating the idea that there was any pressing need to vote against Marine Le Pen. He obviously signaled some distaste for her (I couldn’t really tell if it was genuine, or a requirement of his position as a bestselling, non-right-wing author) but spent more time mocking Macron, the non-democratic system, French elites, the continuation of the Hollande regime through Macron, the left’s refusal to ever say the word “Islamic” when it discusses terrorism. From the questions and audience reaction the crowd seemed split—half of them probably believe Le Pen and her ilk are dangerous fascists who must be stamped out forever; the other half at least enjoyed his expressions of scorn for Macron and the French establishment political class.