Presidential 2022: facing Eric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen’s balancing act

It is said without annoyance, but without fun either. “We are not going to undress at Place de la Concorde so that we can talk about us!”, exclaims Wallerand de Saint-Just. The treasurer of the National Gathering readily admits that at this time, Marine Le Pen “is not very audible in the media noise”. That is not exactly correct. The RN candidate is expected and requested by the media. But to be questioned on a single point, or rather a single man: Eric Zemmour. Officially, the pundits of the RN display their “serenity” and their experience as old politicians when asked about the one they qualify as “phenomenon”.

“We are not at all under stress and obsessed with Zemmour! I have seen too much, I remind you that the ‘yellow vests’ were tested at 13% in the polls for Europeans”, tries to convince MEP Jean-Lin Lacapelle. Polls. The word is out. It is through them that the Zemmour storm arose. Without even being a candidate yet, the far-right polemicist has experienced a spectacular surge in a month. If we must repeat, six months before the presidential election, that they say nothing about what will happen in the first round, they nevertheless influence political strategies. “Polls have never had so much political influence as when they were the least realistic”, emphasized on Public Senate the political scientist Jérôme Sainte-Marie.

This is all the more true at the National Rally since we do not know how to take the editorialist. Sparing him while he “repeats that Marine Le Pen can not win, that voting for her is to vote Macron, and that she is zero in debate”, would almost strangle Julien Odoul, spokesperson for the RN? Or attack him, at the risk of offending the Frontist voters who appreciate and follow him for a long time for his positions close to those of the party on questions of identity, security and immigration? The equation is complicated, even insoluble, as summarized, unwittingly, MEP Jean-Paul Garraud.

“Nobody has anything to gain if we fight each other, but there is no question of not saying things either.”

Jean-Paul Garraud, RN MEP

to franceinfo

The leaders of the RN have therefore not really decided and practice both strategies, a bit overwhelmed by the performance of the polemicist. “Zemmour politically appropriates our ground, certainly he spoke about it on television, but he now wants to make a political result for him, loose Jean-Paul Garraud. We don’t get angry but we get annoyed a little. “ Some try to reassure themselves by bringing out the party’s old argument that RN voters prefer the original to the copy. But others doubt it. “Prefer the original to the copy, I don’t know if it’s true, people will also be seduced by this new phenomenon”, warns Wallerand de Saint-Just.

Anyway, the original and the copy belong to the same camp, repeat the RN executives over and over again: the national camp. “I think Eric Zemmour is one of those who believe in France (…) I will never treat him as an adversary. I think he should reserve his attacks for Emmanuel Macron”, underlined, for example, Marine Le Pen, on TF1, September 12. But, here, at Eric Zemmour, there is no question of making friends with the RN and sparing the candidate. And the polemicist knows how to press where it hurts. “Marine Le Pen has the reflexes of a leftist woman”, he launched again on Europe 1, on September 26, while hammering that “everyone at the RN has understood that she will never win!”

Faced with the pikes of the Zemmour camp, the counter-attack was slow to be put in place, with a scent of a playground.

“We have always said that we should not divide the national camp. However, it is he who, in his expression, divided it, it is he who started.”

Jean-Lin Lacapelle, RN MEP

to franceinfo

The hypothetical candidate is first accused of not playing fair. “He maintains the media enthusiasm. The more we talk about him, the more he will rise [dans les sondages]. We have a declared candidate, he does not play by the rules of the game and that bothers me “, complains Jean-Paul Garraud. “Eric, now you have to be a candidate”, asked Marine Le Pen on Thursday.

The former CNews star is mostly singled out for his supposed disconnection with the field. “Marine Le Pen, she travels and goes to see people”, emphasizes Laurent Jacobelli. And when it was pointed out to the president of the RN group of the Grand-Est region that the former journalist also increased his meetings with the French through the promotion of his book, the latter was annoyed. “But what do you call the field? Going to a room in the city center with a paid entrance, it’s not the field! If it’s to talk to very urban people who come to see conferences, there is a side between oneself which is not our way of doing things! “ And Jean-Paul Garraud to mock: “When he goes to talk to the farmers, I don’t know if he will be so comfortable!”

The argument of disconnection has obviously not hit the mark enough to stop the dynamic of the polemicist. The leaders of the RN therefore had to resolve to place themselves on the field of ideas to mark their differences with Eric Zemmour. “I do not see the added value that it brings on the subject of immigration”, thus quipped Marine Le Pen, Thursday, in Puy-de-Dôme, while slipping that she did not take up her provocations on her own.

Jordan Bardella had some time earlier launched the charge on the issue of women and denounced “brutality” of the debater on the subject.

Not sure that this is the right strategy, considering the high percentage of RN voters who could vote Zemmour. According to a Harris Interactive poll which gave the polemicist 17% of the voting intentions in the first round, 30% of Marine Le Pen voters would turn to him. “I extremely badly received the outcry of personalities of the RN vis-a-vis the rise of Zemmour, says Sébastien, 34, sympathizer of the RN. The fact of attacking him head-on when he was a relay of the RN, that bothers me a lot “. Since these recent outings, the young Ile-de-France has made his choice: for the presidential election, he will vote Zemmour, if he is a candidate.

It is not only the voters of the RN who turn to Zemmour. Many former local executives have also joined the polemicist, like Arnaud Humbert, former departmental delegate of Deux-Sèvres who resigned in June. “The RN has opted for a consensual discourse which made it lose voters without winning new ones, it is the strategy of failure”. Approached by the teams of the former journalist of the Figaro, he has since set up the site of the friends of Eric Zemmour and structures future campaign networks in New Aquitaine. “A large part of the electorate of the RN will find themselves more easily behind the clear line of Zemmour rather than in the smooth and politically correct speech of Marine Le Pen”, he wants to believe.

Faced with these defections, the pundits of the RN use the same elements of language: they are embittered who could not bear not to be renewed in the last elections. “They are opportunists with no backbone”, tackle Julien Odoul. “Frankly, I say good luck to Zemmour with them”, continues Laurent Jacobelli. In short, the time for appeasement seems far behind. “I would not wish that this escalates, I am for the peace of the brave”, worries Bruno Gollnisch.

The old traveling companion of Jean-Marie Le Pen must however justify the last exit of the Menhir which, in an interview with World, explained that he would support Eric Zemmour if he was “better placed” than his daughter. Unsurprisingly, the statement caused controversy. But this is to forget that Marine Le Pen said the same thing in 2018, four years before the first round. If someone other than me is better placed, then I will support them because I am fighting not for myself but for our ideas “, then declared the leader of the RN to The Express. A sentence that we will not fail to bring out at the start of the campaign.

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