Macron’s choice: Kill (Hollande) or be killed

first_imgHollande giving up, however, would only be the first obstacle removed on the road to a Macron presidency. Even without the outgoing president, Macron would soon realize that the ideological space he wants to occupy is already over-crowded.If former Prime Minister Alain Juppé is the conservative candidate, Macron’s supporters from the right will vote with their own camp. But if former President Nicolas Sarkozy wins the Républicains party’s primary, that would most likely trigger the candidacy of perennial centrist contender François Bayrou, in reaction to Sarkozy’s hard-right platform.“Whatever scenario, Macron looks always stuck between the right’s left and the left’s right,” Cautres said.One way Hollande could counter Macron’s smothering offensive would be to declare his reelection bid earlier than planned.Asked about the long-standing French history of failed attempts to create a political center, the MP Leroy begs to differ. “First, those attempts always came from the Right, and ‘Center’ was just another name for moderate conservative,” he said.Even though Macron insists he is not a member (at least not anymore) of the Socialist Party, he reiterated on the day of his resignation that he considered himself as part of the Left. “You can argue that France is in such dire straits that it’s ready to ditch the old parties,” Leroy said. “Listen to the voters, and you can see clearly that they’ve had it. There’s that incredible tension in the country. Back in 2012, we thought it was because of Sarkozy and his style of governing. Now we’ve realized that it’s much deeper than that.”Hollande counter-offensiveThe presidential adviser said one way Hollande could counter Macron’s smothering offensive would be to declare his reelection bid earlier than planned. The French president has always said he would announce in December whether he wants a second term, but some of his associates would like him to at least hint that he’s interested much earlier — possibly in a speech on terrorism he is scheduled to give on September 8. Then the supporters would rally, and uncertainty about his intentions would recede.Will the French deem presidential material a man who is mostly known for his calls to end the 35-hour week and liberalize services?That would present Macron with another tough choice: Campaign against his former mentor — the “mutually assured destruction” option, in the words of the Hollande adviser. Or put his presidential ambition on the shelf and stand down. Cautres thinks that would be impossible for him to do. “He has to go for it, he has gone too far now. If he doesn’t he would not only be a traitor but a coward in the eyes of socialist voters,” he said.Finally, Macron has to find a way to deal with his own personality problem. Will the French deem presidential material a man who is mostly known for his calls to end the 35-hour week and liberalize services? After the string of terror attacks that have hit France since January 2015, with the country’s military engaged on several fronts, and with Europe in deep crisis, the willingness of the French to risk choosing a president who is untested on security matters and has never run for office is a serious matter of conjecture.Macron, in other words, may find that the youth argument, in a presidential contest, is a double-edged sword. PARIS — Emmanuel Macron is “dishonest,” “a traitor,” a “deserter” and “political monster,” “a felon” whose aim is “to destroy the Socialist party.” And that’s just according to the Socialist politicians whose camp he supposedly belongs to.The least that can be said about the French economy minister’s resignation last week is that it wasn’t met with indifference among the French political class. Even though his overt goal is to rise above partisan politics, the fury his move unleashed also helps understand the challenge Macron faces if he wants to mount a presidential bid next year: He can’t count on the Socialist party’s support, but he can’t take the risk of running as an opponent to his former mentor François Hollande. That would push the “traitor” narrative to the extreme.“Plus, can you imagine the outgoing economy minister forced to explain that everything the government did on the economy in the last five years was wrong?” said a French presidential adviser. Macron instead seems to have chosen to criticize what Hollande didn’t do, rather than what he did. “I kept trying, proposing, pushing … Unfortunately many things were left half done,” he said in an interview Sunday with Journal du Dimanche.Macron understands his Socialist problem enough that he isn’t even considering running in the party’s primary, to be held next January. If he runs, it would be in the general election (due in May 2017) as an independent candidate intent on demonstrating, as he has said repeatedly, that “the old divide between left and right” doesn’t mean anything anymore.“With Macron gone, there is nobody now [in Hollande’s camp] to defend credibly a liberal agenda of economic recovery” — Bruno Cautres, political scientistHence the strategy: Force Hollande to give up so Macron can step into the void. Macron was compared to Brutus after his resignation. But instead of a dagger, he seems to prefer the pillow and a strategy of gradual smothering, slowly creating a situation where Hollande will have no choice but to admit that he must abstain.Arnaud Leroy, one of the handful of Socialist MPs who have declared their support for Macron, thinks this could well happen in the current French political context. He quoted one of Hollande’s own ministers, Jean-Marie Le Guen, an ally of Macron’s arch-enemy, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who quipped last week that the Socialist Party was “dead already.”“The party is in disarray and I don’t want to pile it on, but who wouldn’t realize there’s a also a specific Hollande problem?” Leroy said. “The lack of direction, his hesitations … People now aren’t interested in him anymore, they don’t even watch whenever he is on TV.”center_img ‘Transformation’ manTo try to nudge Hollande toward the exit, Macron is expected in the next three months to develop the kind of center-left reformist platform Hollande would be expected to defend in a presidential campaign.Macron calls it a “transformation plan,” stemming from the meetings that members of his political movement, En Marche (Let’s Go!) have had with French citizens over the summer. It is unlikely to stray far from the reform agenda that Macron has defended in his two years as minister.Hollande giving up would only be the first obstacle removed on the road to a Macron presidency | Charles Platiau/AFP via Getty Images)Macron’s departure leaves the fast-shrinking Hollande camp — already amputated on the left with the declared presidential candidacy of a few leftist former ministers — without a reform champion of its own.“With Macron gone, there is nobody now [in Hollande’s camp] to defend credibly a liberal agenda of economic reform and recovery,” said Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at Sciences Po’s CEVIPOF research center, in Paris. Valls would agree with a determined reform plan, but he has chosen to focus on the fight against terrorism and the defense of French “identity.” He hasn’t made a speech on the economy for months. And French Finance Minister Michel Sapin (now also in charge of the economy portfolio) is not a major political player.So Macron’s strategy is one of “preventive strike,” said Cautres, the author of a recent study on the sociology of the former minister’s supporters. “Then you will find Hollande under extreme pressure,” he said. “It’s already hard to see how [the president’s] popularity can recover in the next few months, I think this could become too much for him.”Pre-emptively eliminating Hollande from the race might prove easier than previously thought. A defeat of the sitting president in his own Socialist Party primary, which seemed inconceivable a few weeks ago, suddenly looks possible: Leftist candidate Arnaud Montebourg now polls almost as much as Hollande among likely Socialist voters. Or as Cautres put it, “At some point people may wonder: Can you imagine this man facing Putin at the U.N. 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