The Magazine

The Most Hated Man in France

I was a Facebook martyr for the Sarkozy cause.

May 7, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 32 • By ANNE-ELISABETH MOUTET
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No dupe, Sarkozy started his formal address by suggesting, in quasi-Nixon fashion, that we soon might not have him to kick around any more, and praised “the vitality of our democracy, where the press is so free that it doesn’t have to remain impartial.” Still, when he came down from the dais to mingle with us, there was the usual undignified scrum to attract his attention and bask in the distinction of exchanging a few words with him (his security detail is fairly laid back compared with the Secret Service). It was then still unclear how the election would go. You could tell when his poll figures started going south: Suddenly Sarkozy’s TV interviewers began following up on questions, American style.

Now there is blood in the water. Besides the media, some of Sarkozy’s less loyal cabinet hires have gone over to the Hollande camp. Doubts in his own campaign team are rampant—many worry about the legislative elections in June, fearing their association with Sarkozy will cost them their seats. “It’s finished, all done for,” one Sarkozyste Parisian assembly member told me. He was considering ditching his party affiliation for a less compromising centrist tag.

There’s only one fighter left in Sarkozy’s camp, it would seem, and that’s Sarkozy himself. He has psyched himself like the runner he is, and believes he can triangulate his way to a victory by convincing both a majority of Le Pen’s voters and enough of the fractured centrists remaining from the lackluster performance of François Bayrou, a former education minister who polled a little over 8 percent. Faced with the overwhelming rejection of the Parisian establishment, Sarkozy has one week left to reinvent himself as the improbable challenger of a slightly too complacent Hollande, who’s already picking his cabinet. 

On paper, Sarkozy’s gamble might just succeed, although it’s not terribly likely. Hollande has campaigned as the “normal” candidate (to which Sarkozy scoffed: “There’s nothing normal about this job”). The only true passion sustaining Hollande is the desire of enough of the French to see the back of Sarkozy, whose style they abominate even though many of them acknowledge he’s not performed badly in the economic crisis. On Sunday night, May 6, I’ll know if my own family were accurately attuned to the country’s mood. It is entirely possible. Then again, I would love to see their faces if Sarko pulls it off.

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a columnist for the London Telegraph and a commentator for the BBC.

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