In political combat, as in any competition, nothing is more imprudent than to underestimate an adversary. In the months, then the weeks leading up to the 2012 presidential election, many will learn this the hard way.
An underrated candidate
On the side of the socialists, first. When Francois Hollande left, in 2008, his chair of first secretary of the PS, many of the caciques of the party believed they got rid of this character that they had decked out, over the years, the least charitable nicknames. The same people took the announcement lightly, from the March 31, 2011of his presidential candidacy.
Was he not credited, at the time, with 3% of the voting intentions? A ridiculous score against the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahnthen announced as the all-round champion of the left. Yet it is his early appearance on the scene that will ensure Hollande a decisive lead after the spectacular exit from the road of DSK, accused of rape in a New York palace on May 15, 2011.
Martine Aubry it will be nice to denounce with a famous formula – “When it’s blurry, there’s a wolf” – the precautions of his program, Ségolène Royal can dream of repeating his achievement of 2007, Arnaud Montebourg hope to overturn the table and Jean-Luc Melenchoncandidate of the left of the left, ridicule this “pedal boat captain”it is the mayor of Tulle who wins the citizen primary organized by the PS: the October 163 million left voters went to vote and 57% of them chose him to face Nicolas Sarkozy.
Strangely, this victory does not alert the outgoing president. Willingly bullying, he is convinced that the advance of the socialist in the polls is as illusory as it is provisional. He is convinced that he will collapse. How could it be otherwise when the most amiable of the Elyos augurs assert that he does not have the presidential stature, while the others simply judge him “null”.
A smashing start to the campaign
The entry into the Dutch campaign, the January 22 at Le Bourget, is all the more spectacular. He knows he plays very big. In an hour and a half, in front of 20,000 galvanized supporters, he will win the bet.
It was said to be blurry and soft. It is fiery and punchy. He was described as elusive and fleeing? “It’s true that I don’t show myself”he admits, to better retrace his career, this left that he “has not inherited” but chosen lucidly, this career where nothing was given to him. The right mocked his ambition to be a “normal” president? He finds the words to meet the country, to fit into the national narrative, to root himself in the republican gesture and to define in a long anaphora what, for him, “to preside over France” means, that is to say the exact opposite of the unbridled pace and backfiring practice of the outgoing president.
This Sunday January 22nor does he forget politics. The centrist Francois Bayrouagain in the running, accusing him of being a prisoner of the old socialist moons? It reaffirms its desire for economic realism and budgetary seriousness.
A part of the left, Mélenchon in the lead, the judge too lukewarm? He amazes his world with a tirade he knows will eclipse almost everything else: “In this battle that is taking place, I will tell you who my adversary is, my real adversary. He has no name, no face, no party. He will never present his candidacy, so he will not be elected, but he governs. This adversary is the world of finance. Before our eyes, in twenty years, it has taken control of the economy, of society and even of our lives.”. Against this adversary, of which Sarkozy is the perfect representative, he will be “the president of the end of privileges”. The room exults.
To make good weight, finally, he unveils his main proposals: budgetary balance restored in five years, tax reform, recruitment of 60,000 teachers, reduction to 50% of the share of nuclear power in the production of electricity, proportional dose in the legislative election, marriage between people of the same sex… In short, “the change is now” summarizes its slogan.
Sarkozy on the margins
At the exit, the Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is thrilled: “With a good speech, we were quiet for a month. With this one, we are for two months”.
It is well seen. Because, from this moment, Sarkozy will no longer stop running behind his opponent. To try to catch up, he will accelerate his entry into the scene, make one proposal per day at the risk of overdose and multiply his meetings without worrying, we will learn later, to explode his campaign expenses.
Like Chirac in 1995, but the string is now a little big, he will present himself as the candidate of the people against that of the “system” that would be Hollande. Feverish, he is going to force his tone more and more, calling the latter a liar, a Tartuffe, a tax bludgeon. Hoping to once again seduce the National Front voters, he set the bar firmly to the right without realizing that, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen who succeeded his father a year earlier, the far right has found new impetus.
But nothing helps. Fearless under attack, Hollande remained faithful to his strategy. He leaves to his adversary the bad role of the aggressor. Refusing to enter into a cockfight, he relentlessly pounded the balance sheet of the five-year term which is ending and fuels the desire for alternation. Finally, at the end of February, he relaunched his fight against finance by announcing his intention to tax income over 1 million euros at 75%. The maneuver is effective: it cuts the momentum of Mélenchon who was beginning to weaken his place as favorite and forced Sarkozy into silence, except to be returned to his image of president of the rich.
Skillful, tenacious and profitable strategy. the April 22he won the first round: with nearly 29% of the vote, he was 1.5 points ahead of the incumbent, a first under the Fifth Republic. As for Marine Le Pen, with 18% of the vote she seals the failure of the Sarkozyist strategy of siphoning off the Frontist vote. Two weeks later, the socialist won with 51.7% of the vote, the same score as François Mitterrand in 1981.
Until the end, Sarkozy will have underestimated his adversary too much to fight him effectively. Witness the debate between the two rounds between the two men. The endless and murderous anaphora “Me president…” developed by Holland left his opponent speechless. The presidential scepter changed hands at this time.
“1965-2017: the day the campaign changed”. Find each week until the first round of the 2022 presidential election the account by Gérard Courtois of the campaigns of the Fifth Republicthose days when the elections changed, when the fate of the candidates was decided.