“The game is quite open.” For Julien Aubert, deputy for Vaucluse, as for the other members of the Republicans, the party congress seems more indecisive than ever. Who among Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin or Valérie Pécresse will be nominated LR candidate for the presidential election of 2022, on the evening of Saturday, December 4? “Outside of public meetings, we don’t have a feeler”, blows this campaign strategist while looming a final televised debate to decide between them, Tuesday, November 30. “It will end in a handkerchief”, prognosis Julien Aubert.
A fog which is explained by the massive arrival of 70,000 members, while they were “only” 80,000 at the end of September, when the principle of the closed primary was enacted. From Wednesday to Saturday, they will finally be only 139,918 to be able to designate their champion, some new members not having communicated a telephone number necessary for the vote. Are the most recent activists supporters of Xavier Bertrand, Michel Barnier, Eric Ciotti or someone else? No one knows. “Someone from Ile-de-France is not necessarily going to vote for the president of the region, Valérie Pécresse”, warns a member of his close guard. With an electorate more difficult to analyze than in the 2016 primary, caution is in order.
To try to see clearly a few days before the two-round election, everyone is trying to make their own thermometer in order to “feel” the mood of the militants. And in this little game, the great oral of the five candidates before the National Council, on November 20, changed the situation, according to the opponents of Michel Barnier. Asked about his past criticisms of Laurent Wauquiez, whom he claims to be today, the former European Commissioner lost points in the nomination race, in the eyes of his competitors. In addition, in the first three debates, speeches deemed disappointing by many members of the party. “It is sure that it is not a tribune”, squeaks support from Xavier Bertrand. “He is not comfortable”, recognizes a party cadre. What Daniel Fasquelle, spokesperson for the former European Commissioner responsible for Brexit, refutes: “Michel does not know the exercise of the debates well, while the regional won by Valérie Pécresse and Xavier Bertrand are still fresh.”
“Michel Barnier received some blows, but he was better than the others in the third debate.”Daniel Fasquelle, spokesperson for Michel Barnier
With the fourth televised game, Michel Barnier wants to regain the momentum of October, when his supporters relied on his loyalty to the party to castigate the two region presidents, who left during the five-year term and then returned to LR this fall.
This reconquest operation, however, leaves some skeptical. “Michel Barnier, it’s a bit like Alain Juppé in 2016: in the end, everyone wonders why we have to vote for him”, pings a parliamentarian close to one of his rivals.
And not sure that the last debate electrifies his campaign as the first three gave birth to courteous exchanges, almost in restraint. Because on the right, the trauma of 2016, where the camps of Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé and François Fillon were torn before the election, is still alive. “Everyone has said what they have to say, it’s not about attacking others”, sweeps Patrick Stefanini, campaign director of Valérie Pécresse, after that of François Fillon five years ago. “There is no need for violence between us.”
“We knew each other and we knew that we could manage to debate in peace.”Philippe Juvin
Among the five contenders, the absence of frontal attacks in recent days is strategic to lead a united presidential campaign. But not only: very different in 2016, the projects are now much closer. Is it because of a program “90% common”, says a member of Valérie Pécresse’s team, that their debates have so far never attracted more than a million viewers?
The candidates and their entourage assure in any case that it will be a question of housing, health, ecology or education, Tuesday evening. Themes that were only touched on during the first three debates, centered on security, immigration or identity. Consequence of Eric Zemmour’s media and poll breakthrough? “They all ran after him in this campaign”, taunts a former party executive. “I don’t think we were monomaniacs”, answers MEP Geoffroy Didier, close to Valérie Pécresse, who sweeps the accusations aside “zemmourisation” of the battle for Congress. “It’s the choice of channels”, evacuates Daniel Fasquelle. “They saturated the sovereign themes”, however, deplores a party official from the rue de Vaugirard.
According to the relatives of the candidates and the “non-aligned” LR officials, there is a beneficiary of this campaign on the right: Eric Ciotti, holding a hard line against Emmanuel Macron. The deputy for Alpes-Maritimes has also said that he would vote for Eric Zemmour if the far-right polemicist faced the head of state in the second round of the presidential election. “He has a very good campaign and follows his line”, we concede in the entourage of Xavier Bertrand. “There has been too much talk about immigration, which is also what helped push Ciotti up”, we slip rue de Vaugirard.
“If there is a player from each sport around a table and they spend two hours talking about rugby, logically the rugby player is going to do the best.”LR frame
This rugby player, Renaud Muselier decided to tackle him by the throat in the home stretch of the campaign, Tuesday, November 23. “False nose” of the extreme right, candidate who “conveys Zemmour’s ideas inside LR” … Announcing his support for Xavier Bertand, the president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region engaged in an attack in good standing by Eric Ciotti, which the other candidates immediately defended on Twitter. Including the president of the Hauts-de-France region, who refused the dubbing of his counterpart from Paca. In response, Renaud Muselier denounced the “Hands off Ciotti” in force among the various candidates in the running and decided to slam the door of the party.
Formerly a taboo subject, the primary takes everything now, to the point of erasing the differences in sensitivities. “We have a base of common values which lead us in the same direction. As in an orchestra, we play the same score”, boasts Sébastien Huyghe, deputy from the North and close to Xavier Bertrand. “We were buried and we now have a considerable volume of memberships. And the candidates did not hit each other on the face like crazy”, welcomes a party executive. At Les Républicains, so far, all is well.