quinta-feira, 13 de outubro de 2016
5 takeaways from the French Right’s first debate
5 takeaways from the French Right’s first debate
Seven candidates, three debates, one winner.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 10/14/16, 1:08 AM CET
PARIS — Rivals vying for the French Right’s presidential nomination gathered on stage for their first-ever primary debate Thursday night.
It was a largely disciplined, at-times dryly technical affair punctuated by a few pulse-raising highlights — like Bruno Le Maire losing his cool at a pithy question, and Nicolas Sarkozy maintaining his poise when under attack over his judicial troubles.
Here are five takeaways from the debate.
1) Nicolas Sarkozy took a beating (and survived)
The evening was bound to be tough for the ex-president. Under formal investigation in two legal cases, he was vulnerable to attack, and neither Jean-François Copé nor Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet missed their chance to pounce.
When the debate (after a dry first hour) turned to ethics in politics, both said candidates should excuse themselves from any election while under formal investigation — a not-too-subtle jab at the ex-president, who listened with pursed lips while standing between his two antagonists.
But however tense the exchange was, it was brief. Sarkozy said that despite multiple probes, he’s never been found guilty of any crime and had five cases targeting him dismissed. The lawyer-by-training then pivoted aggressively into an attack on President François Hollande, whom he accused of having “dirtied” the state’s institutions by leaking confidential documents unveiled in a tell-all book published this week — a tactic that moved the spotlight, at least partially, away from his own problems.
On the whole, Sarkozy was true to his pugnacious, thin-skinned and ruthlessly competitive self. If his goal in the debate was to knock out Alain Juppé, the frontrunner, he did not succeed. But he did achieve something, which was to survive the first debate of three in the primary race and avoid humiliation.
2) Alain Juppé is still on top of the mountain
The former prime minister, 71, had one job during the debate — not messing up badly enough to jeopardize his comfortable lead in the polls ahead of the conservative primary on November 20 and 27.
In that sense, at least, Juppé succeeded, dodging any major mishaps and maintaining a statesmanlike, generous pose. He even went so far as to hand out brownie points to lesser candidates onstage, telling François Fillon and Bruno Le Maire, in turn, that he “agreed entirely” with their policy proposals. Juppé avoided any direct confrontation with Sarkozy, and the former president did not provoke him.
But there were no surprises from Juppé. Appearing tense at first, he became more relaxed as the debate went on. Yet he looked somewhat shaken when he came under direct attack from Le Maire, who called him “Alain” while disagreeing with his definition of “identity.”
During a long first section on economics, Juppé was unconvincing. He launched into lengthy explanations that were at times tough to follow, and sounded like ideas cooked up with fellow technocrats.
After Thursday’s debate Juppé will probably remain the race’s frontrunner. But in the next debate, he must do a better job transmitting his hope-oriented campaign message, which is what really sets him apart from Sarkozy.
3) François Fillon’s surprise
Languishing in fourth place in opinion polls, the former prime minister has struggled for months to get his campaign off the ground. On Thursday, he got a chance to showcase his skills in front of a national audience, and that’s just what he did.
Early on, Fillon stood out thanks to his relaxed pose, his clipped delivery, and his serious-sounding prescriptions for putting a country plagued by chronically high unemployment and indebtedness back on its feet.
However, in the debate’s more captivating second portion, which touched on ethics in politics, the question of “French identity” and security, Fillon faded. He had to fend off an accusation that he tried to influence a member of Hollande’s entourage to speed up a judicial investigation into Sarkozy. And his prescriptions on security and identity sounded less convincing than his pitch for the economy.
With a slightly more liberated attitude during the next two debates, Fillon may be able to ride his newfound momentum and pull off an unlikely feat: convincing France that his candidacy for the presidency should be taken seriously after all.
4) Bruno Le Maire — tie-less but stiff nonetheless
As the second youngest person onstage (Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet is four years younger), Le Maire, 47, was determined to drive home the message that he represents the “renewal” of France’s political class.
He did so repeatedly, and somewhat clumsily. He was the only male candidate not to wear a tie. He frequently addressed other candidates by their first names, which looked artificial rather than smooth. And when asked a pithy question by the moderator on his proposal to force all candidates to publish their criminal records, Le Maire committed a cardinal sin of public debates: he lost his cool, seethed “Are you serious?” at the questioner and stared at him for several seconds before answering.
At that point, Juppé was ready to pounce. He recited the exact nature of a prior conviction for corruption and offered to send Le Maire his full criminal record — a response that made the younger candidate seem petty and inexperienced.
On the whole, Le Maire showed that despite efforts to look relaxed and spontaneous, there is still room for improvement. Unless he finds a new approach in the next debate, his third position in opinion polls will start to slip.
5) Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet misses her chance
The only woman on stage, a lot of hope was riding on Kosciusko-Morizet’s performance in the debate. But she was not a runaway success. Intent on showing the difference between her policies and the hard-right slant of many other candidates, she failed to get her message across and instead meandered into policy proposals she insisted were “truly modern” and “different.”
Where she did do well was in going after Sarkozy. Kosciusko-Morizet is known to resent the former president for having kicked her out of Republicains party’s leadership for diverging too radically from its line. She hit back at Sarkozy Thursday, saying that it was “only decent” for a person under formal judicial investigation not to run for election. Sarkozy swayed with barely contained anger, but avoided looking in her direction.