sexta-feira, 4 de novembro de 2016

5 takeaways from French Right’s 2nd presidential debate

5 takeaways from French Right’s 2nd presidential debate
Frontrunner Alain Juppé holds his own. None of other six comes through with breakout performance.

By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 11/4/16, 12:13 AM CET Updated 11/4/16, 2:23 AM CET

PARIS — Seven French conservative presidential hopefuls faced off Thursday night in a live television debate — a livelier, and at times nastier, exchange than their first encounter last month.

Alain Juppé, a former prime minister who polls say is cruising toward the nomination in a party vote scheduled for later this month, came under sustained attack. As expected, his rivals zeroed in on his acceptance of an endorsement from a prominent centrist who backed President François Hollande in 2012.

There were other notable skirmishes too.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy fended off attacks on his legacy from Jean-François Copé, a longtime ally who turned enemy amid a campaign finance scandal.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, her level of support in the single digits, went after wildcard candidate Jean-Frédéric Poisson for having flirted with the far-right National Front and accused U.S. democratic candidate Hillary Clinton of being under the influence of Zionist lobbies.

Overall, it was a richer spectacle because candidates appeared more comfortable with the debate format, a novelty for French conservatives. And in the end, it was unlikely to change the dynamic of the race, with Juppé holding steady in the face of the Sarkozy attack, while others failed to deliver breakout performances.

Here are five takeaways.

1. Alain Juppé withstood Sarkozy’s charge

The first debate centered on Sarkozy and his legal troubles. This time the focus shifted to the frontrunner and the question of whether or not he was a reliably conservative candidate.

Rivals led by Sarkozy tried to knock out Juppé by accusing him of having “sold out” by accepting the endorsement of François Bayrou, leader of the centrist Modem party. Juppé responded that presidents had always relied on support from other candidates to get elected. “In local elections, we were always happy to receive support from François Bayrou,” said the mayor of Bordeaux.

When Sarkozy twice reiterated his point, Juppé displayed a rare flash of exasperation, declaring that he was finished talking about Bayrou. But Bruno Le Maire, 47, still managed to score a point against the 71-year-old Juppé, arguing that electoral deals belonged to a bygone era of politics, which voters wanted to leave behind.

For most of three hour debate, Juppé maintained his statesmanlike poise. He shrugged off interruptions with a smile and delivered his policy prescriptions on security, terrorism and education with his signature precision.

Still, the attack on his alleged lack of political principle may cut deeper than was immediately apparent, especially with rank-and-file members of the conservative Républicains party.

2. Sarkozy was in better form, but failed to destabilize Juppé

The former president’s aides must have issued a word of advice before he took to the stage: Whatever you do up there, smile.

Tense and miserable-looking at points during the last debate, Sarkozy this time arranged his face into an amiable grin whenever he was not speaking, and appeared more comfortable debating former underlings.

The charm offensive did not deflect him from his core mission: depicting Juppé as a “soft” conservative. In his repeated attacks, he showed the aggressive focus that earned him a reputation as a political pugilist. “François Bayrou never ceased … to vote against us,” Sarkozy hammered when the exchange briefly veered away from Bayrou.

Others onstage did not follow Sarkozy’s lead. Instead, Copé directed several stabs at the ex-president over what he described as a failed legacy as president, comparing him unfavorably to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her record of keeping unemployment low and fighting crime. He also attacked Sarkozy’s foreign policy record, with a nod to recent revelations about the ex-president’s ties to the government of former Libyan strongman Muammar Ghadafi.

“Years and years of hypocrisy led our country to be incapable of having a clear policy in terms of immigration and especially on asylum law, given the backdrop of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and, sadly, Libya,” said Copé, former head of the conservative party.

Sarkozy tried to swat away the assault by drawing attention to his own executive experience, a tactic that he also deployed against Le Maire when told he should not be seeking re-election.

The ex-president certainly made the argument against Juppé that he had come to deliver. But the charge crowded his speaking time, making him look more focused on knocking down a rival than delivering his own recipe for change. It was classic Sarkozy. Whether voters want to see any more of it remains just as unlikely as it was before the debate.

3. Bruno Le Maire improved. Fillon flatlined

Le Maire, who is running third or fourth in opinion polls, had plenty to prove. His last debate performance was panned, down to his decision not to wear a tie when all other male candidates had worn one.

This time Le Maire, sporting a blue tie, avoided tone-deaf flights of rhetoric. He came out strongly, saying he wanted to be an “honest” president, in an obvious dig at Sarkozy, and called for a renewal of the political class. During a sequence on terrorism, he argued for new tools to lock up potential attackers, and urged a total halt in foreign funding for mosques in France.

He also made mistakes. While arguing in favor of sending French troops to Syria, he declared that France had sent soldiers to Libya. Juppé pointed out that had not been the case, then cut the former agriculture minister down to size on the issue of whether or not to keep speaking to Gulf monarchies. Such questions required “seriousness,” said the former foreign minister.

Le Maire improved on his last debate performance. Not so ex-prime minister François Fillon, who had impressed pundits with his calm and confident calls for a shock to pull the French economy out of its doldrums.

At his best on economic questions, Fillon drew effective comparisons between France, Germany and Britain, arguing that the neighbors had performed better. But his phlegmatic delivery confounded his backers’ advice: be more empathetic, look at the camera, create a bond.

Expect more jockeying between Le Maire and Fillon in the polls for the third place prize. Don’t bet on either knocking out one of the frontrunners.

4. Kosciusko-Morizet’s moment

Unimpressive during the first debate, the former energy minister showed plenty of ironic verve this time around. She doggedly pursued Sarkozy over his record on the environment during one tense exchange, forcing him to acknowledge that a summit on ecology held early in his term had been a mistake.

But her finest moment was during an exchange with Jean-Frédéric Poisson of the Christian Democrat Party, who had said he felt closer to Marion-Maréchal Le Pen, youngest scion of the far-right dynasty, than to Kosciusko-Morizet. “Jean-Frédéric Poisson recently declared that he felt closer to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen than to me. I’m honored by that,” she said.

As the only female candidate in the debate, she also scored a point on the question of parity. “Women are not ‘diversity’,” she said. “They are half of humanity.”

Now comes the hard part for Kosciusko-Morizet: transforming her performance into a credible bid to win the primary. With her poll scores in the single digits, that remains a long shot.

5. Europe? Not invited

With seven candidates onstage, the debate’s agenda was packed to the gills with immigration, terrorism, security and education. The moderators appeared to forget they had also planned a discussion on Europe — arguably a crucial subject at a time when Britain is preparing to leave the European Union, and the Euroskeptic Marine Le Pen is seen breaking through to the presidential election’s runoff round.

Only Poisson mentioned Europe in passing — to argue the bloc prevented France from exercising its independence.

“The center-right was once at the origin of the European project. Today, Europe no longer exists on the Right — or only as a punching ball,” tweeted essayist Raphael Glucksmann.


Nicholas Vinocur  

Sem comentários: