Eric Zemmour, a right-wing French essayist, has had a stellar rise in the media and public opinion. He has now reached 17 per cent in the latest Harris Interactive poll for the first round if he were to run as a candidate. After Macron’s ascent to power from nowhere only five years ago, will Zemmour become the Donald Trump of French politics?
It looks unlikely. Zemmour certainly hit a raw nerve with his anti-immigrant theme, but whether he can dominate the campaign will depend on events outside of his control. If the voters' concern turns towards the energy crisis and purchasing power, Zemmour would be without an offer. But in this post-truth world, he attracts frustrated voters with his half-truths and lies about history, and his outspokenness on subjects others would not dare to address. This may serve him well whether he runs or not.
Zemmour uses the media. He capitalises on his extensive book tour and the attention a potential candidate gets before declaring his intention to run. Once he decides, the media may take a fresh look at him. If he were to run, he will have to offer more content — not just polemics or his pseudo-intellectual idea of the great displacement by Islamic immigrants. If he decides not to run, his moment of political fame may well be behind him and he returns to being just a commentator with stark opinions but no power to change events.
Still, even if he doesn't run, he clearly has the ability to impact politics. Reducing Marine Le Pen's lead in the polls, just when she prepared to widen her appeal to the centre-right, will make the far-right party rethink their strategy. Together, Zemmour and Le Pen attract 30 to 34 per cent of voters' support.
The second impact is on the conservative camp. Xavier Bertrand is eager to move the election of the conservative candidate forward, ahead of the scheduled December party congress. Edouard Philippe is suddenly back in the game, named as a potential saviour if Zemmour were to declare his intention to run. Amid a common threat like Zemmour, Les Républicains may forget their divide and rally behind a strong candidate. This in turn would change the second-round scenarios Emmanuel Macron could possibly face.
This was first published in the EuroIntelligence morning briefing. For a trial subscription click here.