Conservative Pécresse seeks to establish herself as the “only threat” for Macron

The only candidate to have beaten Emmanuel Macron in all the polls for the very important second round of the French presidential election, Valérie Pécresse has seen an increase in audience since she won the conservative party. The Republicans primary festival in early December. Analysts say Pécresse poses a formidable threat to the president as she targets her voters at the center of French politics.

For much of Macron’s tenure, France waited – and didn’t want – for a replay of Macron’s 2017 duel against Marine Le Pen in the second round of the 2022 presidential election.

In this landscape, the traditional conservatives The Republicans (LR) seemed trapped in a tight political space between President Macron and the National Gathering Le Pen, then unassailable as the flag bearer of the far right.

But new developments have changed the dynamics.

As the political scientist Jérôme Jaffré said, just as Eric Zemmour “shook” Le Pen by outflanking her to the far right, Pécresse “shakes” Macron as she encroaches on her territory – the central terrain much richer in voice.

Macron the “pale imitation”?

Pécresse established her line of attack against Macron at the end of the summer, long before she became an LR candidate. Knowing that the president has moved to the right with the center of the French electorate, Pécresse presented Macron as a “pale imitation” of a center-right leader. She said he had promised to transform France but had “hardly done” anything other than dealing with the crises.

Today, P̩cresse has emerged as a major threat for Macron in the second round Рas an Elabe poll in early December demonstrated that showed her beating him in the second round, amid a wave of polls after his triumphs in the LR primary.

While Pécresse’s campaign is keen to anchor it in French public consciousness as the only viable alternative to Macron, its rise in the odds has not gone far. The aggregate of the polls in the first round of Politico places Macron at 24% and Pécresse at 17, with Le Pen at 16 and Zemmour at 13. And historically, the French elections have often disrupted early polls.

Nevertheless, this Elabe poll was like an “electric shock”, an anonymous close to Macron told the Journal de Dimanche.

Macron used the machinery of the Élysée Palace, using the airtime only a president has to give a lengthy television interview last week. Months after Pécresse accused him of “inertia,” Macron defended his credentials as an economic reformer, saying he “couldn’t do it all” in one term.

Indeed, experts say the president recognizes Pécresse as the greatest danger to his candidacy for a second term.

The threat of Macron’s re-election will come “only from Pécresse; it will not come from the desperately divided left or the unelected far right, ”said Jim Shields, professor of French politics at the University of Warwick. “Before Pécresse entered the race, Macron was comfortably heading for re-election without a viable challenger. Now he faces a traditional Tory opponent who threatens part of his own center-right base. ”

By presenting himself as an original and Macron as a copy, Pécresse is playing the “card of authenticity for right-wing voters who could have leaned towards Macron by default,” added Shields.

“Straddling the divisions within the right”

Macron won many of those votes long before his pivot to the right as president. Polls showed LR’s François Fillon was on course to win the 2017 presidential election until a financial irregularities scandal torpedoed his candidacy. Much of his support has gone to Macron and propelled the young contender to the top spot.

“A great concern for Macron will be that Pécresse can recover the veinist voters he won last time, ”said Andrew Smith, professor of French politics at the University of Chichester.

In this astonishing rise to power five years ago, Macron has given himself a wider appeal than Fillon, racking up support from the center-left and center-right by taking ideas from both sides – the famous the same time approach (“at the same time”).

This time around, Pécresse seeks to pull off a similar maneuver and garner votes across the broad spectrum of French conservatism, encompassing central terrain that has shifted to the right since Macron came to power.

Candidate LR tries to build on her reputation as a moderate technocratic of her last six years at the head of the Paris region – promising to rationalize the state and reduce France’s public debt, which is expected to reach 116% of GDP by the end of the year. . At the same time, Pécresse undertakes to toughen French laws on security and immigration.

“She is a great threat to Macron because she can fend for herself the same time, straddling the divisions within the right, ”Smith noted. “She has a foothold in the center-right technocratic approach to issues like economic policy; and another foothold in the slightly more identity politics of order, security and the Catholic heritage of France – issues that can be addressed without going to the far right.

Yet over the course of a long campaign that has months to go, Smith warned, Pécresse could end up walking “a bit of a tightrope” as she continues this campaign. the same time. On the one hand, it targets Macron’s voters. On another, she fights Zemmour and Le Pen for a ticket to the second round.

Zemmour is keen to convince traditional conservatives – and his presence on the far right risks fracturing the LR coalition. Far-right MP Eric Ciotti – who said last fall that he would support Zemmour against Macron if the two were in the second round – narrowly won the first stage of the LR primary before Pécresse’s decisive victory in the second tower. While he called on Zemmour supporters to support Pécresse instead, Ciotti also lamented his refusal to accept his Zemmour proposal for a French version of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“A danger for Pécresse is that someone like Ciotti will turn to Zemmour and disrupt his campaign,” Smith observed.

But Zemmour’s ratings plummeted after his fall ascent. Analysts say he’s seen as too toxic and lacks credibility for most mainstream conservative voters. Meanwhile his new political vehicle Reconquest has nothing to do with the deeply rooted festive infrastructure that LR benefits from across France.

Indeed, none of Pécresse’s three main rivals have a comparable mechanism to secure the vote – which played a crucial role in propelling LR to the top of French regional polls in June.

“One of the biggest threats posed by Pécresse is his party’s ability to wage an electoral war on the ground,” Shields said. “LR remains a formidable campaign machine with a deeply rooted presence in the cities, departments and regions of France and a newly energized and enlarged membership. This contrasts with Macron, Le Pen and Zemmour, neither of whom have the same ability to mount a massive campaign on the ground and rally grassroots support across the country. ”

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