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PARIS – Emmanuel Macron did more than take the presidency in 2017: he trampled on one of the great traditional beasts of French politics, the conservative Les Républicains.
Since then, the party has stumbled like a drunk at a wedding, but it must pull itself together before next year’s presidential election.
His first task is to choose a candidate to face Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen. They must also prevent voters from being drawn to the candidacy of television specialist Eric Zemmour, who calls for stricter measures on immigration and French identity. Zemmour has yet to formalize his candidacy, but he is already adding to the division among the conservatives.
For months, the Conservatives took a Darwinian approach, hoping that a leader would naturally emerge from the ranks and prevail over the party. It didn’t happen.
There are plenty of candidates to choose from and it looks increasingly likely that The Republicans will have to hold an internal primary to pick someone to dominate the ticket.
The Tories hope to capitalize on the morale-boosting victories in the recent regional elections to disrupt the scheduled second-round showdown between Macron and Le Pen in 2022. To maintain momentum, they urgently need to unite behind a candidate who can lead them to the countryside. .
Here are the names to watch out for in the Conservative Candidate Contest:
The star student: Valérie Pécresse
An elite graduate of the National School of Administration (ENA), Pécresse has steadily climbed the ranks, from government advisor to minister. She presents herself as “two thirds Merkel and one third Thatcher“, To which a government spokesperson joked” she is much more two-thirds without a manifesto, a third without ideas. ”
Pécresse is a potential threat for Macron. She is close to him on economic issues and, at the head of the Île-de-France region of which Paris is part, has field experience in administration. His work facing the problems of the impoverished Parisian suburb has gone a little way to counter its reputation as a top crust. She also appears to be catch up with his main opponent Xavier Bertrand in the polls.
If chosen, Pécresse would be France’s first conservative candidate. She confided that French policy is “a world of men” where she was mocked for her “headband and pleated skirt” look.
Strength: Clean track record. Pécresse dodged many of the divisions and sordid allegations within the party.
Weakness: So chic. She struggles to shed her bourgeois image.
The loner: Xavier Bertrand
Bertrand hopes to crush the opposition without participating in a party primary, which he vehemently opposes. President of the Nord Hauts-de-France region, he officially left the Republicans but remains aligned with them and announced his candidacy before the summer.
A former insurer, Bertand says he has always been laughed at in the Parisian elite because of his humble beginnings. As a deputy, he was nicknamed “floc floc” because of the noise of his rubber-soled shoes on the mottled floors of the National Assembly. But Bertrand hopes that his “common man” touch will prove to be an asset and not a handicap in the race for the Elysee Palace.
He pushes conservatism with a touch of well-being and struggles to find support among party colleagues (hence the aversion to a primary). “He’s not liked and he’s not a team player,” said a party heavyweight. However, polls suggest it is more popular with voters and could be the party’s best stunt at the Elysee Palace. After winning the elections in northern France this year, Bertrand announced that he had “smashed the jaws” of the Rassemblement national de Le Pen.
Strength: Tenacity in the face of adversity from friends and foes.
Weakness: A tendency to go it alone. To gain the presidency, Bertrand will have to build bridges.
The schoolmaster: Michel Barnier
The EU’s former Brexit pointer brings well-established negotiating skills to the table. Barnier declared his candidacy in August. Former Minister and European Commissioner, he says he wants to be “useful” and “team leader”.
Barnier brought together 27 EU member states on Brexit, so how difficult can it be to bring together a herd of French politicians? Quite difficult. First, he’ll have to remind everyone at the party where he’s been for the past five years. Then he will have to shake off the aura of a distant Brussels technocrat.
One of his first gestures as a candidate for the primary was to pull a few blows: to those in the party who do not want to play by “the rules of the game” and to Macron. Barnier has worked closely with the French President on Brexit, but now says his leadership has been too “lonely, too vertical and sometimes too arrogant.
Strength: Decisive agreement. Barnier pulled off Brexit as his colleagues argued after their loss to Macron in 2017.
Weakness: A lack of clickability. Some say it’s a bit boring.
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FRANCE VOTING SURVEY
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Poll polls.
The Falcon: Eric Ciotti
Ciotti is the surprise candidate. Ardent and deputy from the south of France, Ciotti was once Nicolas Sarkozy’s muse for public order, when the conservatives ruled France.
In the past, he has suggested imprisoning parents of delinquent children who break bail and suspending benefits for parents whose children miss school.
According to a member of his entourage, Ciotti has broadened his range and is now confident on other topics such as COVID-19, nuclear and industrial autonomy.
Ciotti ruffled feathers in his own camp last Sunday when he said he would rather vote for Zemmour than for Macron. He told the RTL Radio that he would vote “most certainly” for Zemmour if the television celebrity faced Macron in a hypothetical second round.
Strength: On the money. Law and order are at the heart of the confrontation between Le Pen and Macron.
Weakness: The little law. Some of his past proposals weren’t exactly legal.
The doctor: Philippe Juvin
Another outsider, Juvin has a big advantage: he can speak with authority on a surprising number of subjects.
As the emergency manager of a large Parisian hospital, Juvin’s profile has been turbo during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also a former military doctor who served in Afghanistan, a former MEP and former mayor of a city in the suburbs of Paris.
On a different note from that of his conservative colleagues, Juvin presents himself as the champion of French public services.
Strength: Versatility. Juvin has backup career plans if he doesn’t become president.
Weakness: Lightweight. He’s low in the conservative pecking order
The prodigal son: Laurent Wauquiez
Wauquiez’s return to national politics was widely anticipated and in great demand. But the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region insists that he will not run this time.
Wauquiez was a party prodigy who passed his exams and rose through the ranks, before inheriting the party leadership from his mentor Sarkozy in 2017. It was then that everything went wrong. Wauquiez blundered, sparked controversy and was accused of sidelining rivals at the top of the party.
After disastrous electoral results in 2019, he left the presidency of the party to devote himself to his regional mandate far from Paris. “His leadership left a mark,” said one rival – but not in a good way. However, following his re-election as head of his south-eastern region in June with 55% of the vote, many supporters were hoping Wauquiez would return.
Weakness: Cooking pot. Some love it, others hate it.
Outlook: 0/10 (Unless he’s persuaded to change his mind.)
and… The referee: Jean Leonetti
Leonetti’s mission is to find the Republican candidate. The mayor of Antibes is push for a primary which will be held this fall and tries to convince Bertrand to participate. Republicans have launched a nationwide poll to help them decide whether to hold a primary. A decision is expected to be made at a party conference this month. If they don’t, the party greats can decide who runs.