In five months, France will vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 10. The runoff will be on the 24th. The electoral campaign has not yet really begun—even though there are already about 30 declared candidates, some of them more or less credible—because in order to get on the ballot for the elections, they must collect the signatures of at least 500 elected officials (from holders of local offices to members of Parliament).
The political panorama is fragmented and confused: the main parties that have governed in the Fifth Republic—the Socialist Party and the Gaullist or liberal right—are going through a difficult moment at a national level. The PS has chosen its candidate by an internal vote: the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. At the moment, the left is in the field with no less than seven candidates, who will have to divide a 28% slice of the votes between themselves.
The right-wing LR don’t yet have a name, as their candidate will be chosen by their members on December 4 from among five options. Emmanuel Macron, who all polls give as the likely winner at the moment, is waiting to register his candidacy officially.
In this time of waiting, one particular character has captured the attention of the scene: Eric Zemmour, armchair political scientist on TV talk shows, star of CNews, owned by the billionaire Bolloré, twice convicted for provocation to racial discrimination (2011) and provocation to hatred towards Muslims (2018), is attracting all the spotlight, although he has not yet officially declared his candidacy (he is campaigning by touring his latest book, La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot (“France has not yet said its last word”), which he published himself.
The latest poll (Harris) puts him at 16-18% (in 2002, with a plethora of candidates, Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the runoff with 16.8% of the vote in the first round). This mass of potential votes have come in part from Marine Le Pen, who is in danger of being ousted from the role of Macron’s chief challenger. But Zemmour is also attracting a quarter of François Fillon’s 2017 voters, i.e., the most reactionary wing of the classical right on social issues and the most liberal on economics (in favor of a drastic cut in welfare).
In the quicksand of current French politics, the far-right vote is becoming more fluid, which will have important consequences at the legislative elections that will follow the presidential election in June. Zemmour says: “Everyone knows that Marine Le Pen will never win.” For Zemmour, Marine Le Pen is actually a “leftist,” because she talks about retirement at 60 and raising wages (33% of the worker vote, discounting abstention, goes to the Rassemblement National).
The reasons behind this flow of support are surprising at first glance. Zemmour’s disguised campaign is on the extreme radical right: he casts himself as a defender of the “white race” against Muslim immigration that supposedly aims at a “great substitution” of the population to “colonize the former colonizer,” France, “in decline” and on the brink of “civil war” against “a migrant invasion that threatens the lives of women,” whom he then accuses of making their careers “in the bedroom.” He commands Muslims to “change their names,” threatens them with expulsion, and in his speeches the words that recur most often are “France, man, war, race.”
He presents himself as an heir of Maurras and admirer of Houellebecq. Zemmour, born in 1958 in Drancy in the Parisian suburbs, a Jew of Algerian origin from a petit-bourgeois family, accuses the Communist Resistance of having pushed for “civil war” and claims that Pétain “saved the Jews of France,” raising embarrassment and criticism among French Jews (he even claims that Dreyfus was guilty).
All this does not prevent him from casting himself as the true heir of Gaullism. It seems he had considered declaring his candidacy for the Elysée on November 9, the day of the death of De Gaulle (and of Bonaparte’s coup d’état in 1799, with the Consulate that ended the Revolution), but on Tuesday there were rallies planned in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises (with the five LR candidates, two candidates of the far right, and the PS’s Hidalgo) while in the evening Macron had a scheduled TV speech on the COVID recovery and the economy.
Zemmour’s “confusionism,” rooted in the nationalist ideology of “national preference,“ has the support of the theorist of the Club de l’Horologe, Jean-Yves Le Gallou; his communications manager is Olivier Ubéda, who worked for years with the Gaullists. His event organizer is the ambitious young far-right figure Sarah Knafo.
Zemmour has already raised at least €10 million for his campaign. And there have been more than 14,000 articles dedicated to him in the media, which have dubbed him the “French Trump.” Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Insoumise is the only one who has done a TV debate with him. Zemmour, who is close to Marion Maréchal Le Pen, also met with Viktor Orbán in Budapest in September.