Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Even before he announced for president, the French media were out there, along with prominent academics and sundry bien pensant observers, warning potential voters that he was a “populist,” a “polemicist,” and a “provocateur” who was “obsessed with Islam” – and not, mind you, in an an affectionate, Obama-like way – and hence patently “dangerous,” “divisive,” and “discriminatory.” Worst of all, as you could tell from reading his books, including the huge 2004 bestseller Le Suicide français, Éric Zemmour subscribed – as do the majority of his countrymen – to the “Great Replacement” theory, which posits that the people of France are in the process of being supplanted by Muslims and their society, culture, and laws are gradually giving way to their Islamic counterparts.
On November 30, Zemmour released a seven-minute video in which he officially declared his candidacy. In powerful words matched with equally powerful images that contrasted present-day France with the France of history, he stated: “You walk the streets of your city and you don’t recognize it. You look at your screens and you are spoken to in a language that is strange and, quite frankly, foreign….you have the impression that you are no longer in the country you know.” He cited the threats posed by mass Muslim immigration to French liberty, French civilization, French film and food and fashion and “the charm of our art of living.” It was, I commented at the time, “an oration for the ages.” And of course the elites sneered: in the New Yorker, the execrable Adam Gopnick compared Zemmour to Hitler and Stalin.
In fact Zemmour seemed to be the only candidate for president of France who was truly serious about – and remotely capable of – saving it from an Islamic future. But despite that stirring kick-off video, and despite what should have been a sensational endorsement by Marion Maréchal, the niece of perennial “far-right” presidential also-ran, Marine Le Pen, his campaign went nowhere. Yes, even before his announcement he’d drained support from Le Pen; but she recovered. Then Valérie Pécresse entered the race, echoing many of Zemmour’s talking points, and not only briefly captured the attention of the media but also briefly stole the #2 spot in the public-opinion polls from Le Pen.
But Zemmour? Two weeks ago, Le Monde columnist Gilles Paris was already writing his epitaph, saying that Zemmour had been his own worst enemy. “When voters are asked about his image and character traits,” explained Paris, “he comes out on top for everything negative and dead last for almost everything positive.” In overwhelming numbers, voters said Zemmour “didn’t give a good image of France abroad.” His only solid constituency is that “radical faction” – as Paris put it – “for whom immigration…is the main issue of concern.”
Now, it seems to me that any French patriot with at least one foot in reality should have immigration as his or her “main issue of concern.” Similarly, I consider it obvious that Geert Wilders should be the prime minister of the Netherlands. But in last year’s election Wilders’s Freedom Party got only 11% of the vote. In Sunday’s first round of the French presidential balloting, Zemmour received a lamentable 7%, coming in a distant fourth behind the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron (28%), Le Pen, (23%), and Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon (22%). In the second round, then, as in 2017, Macron will face Le Pen.
Why did Zemmour have such a poor showing? Commentators deride him for his “hubris,” his touches of vulgarity, his sometimes inappropriate humor. Women, one reads, are turned off by him. It all brings to mind the American voters whose delicate distaste for Trump’s tweets – for his “rudeness” and “meanness” and so on – blinded them, when voting in the 2020 election, to his administration’s remarkable achievements. On Sunday, Liberation sneered that Zemmour’s campaign had been “exclusively based on media noise.” Sound familiar?
In fact, Zemmour, like Trump, was a non-politician who went into politics only because he saw his country being failed – potentially to disastrous effect – by its professional politicians, and whose campaign platform was a carefully designed plan for a heroic act of rescue. No president before him had ever kept as many of his campaign pledges as Trump did; we will never know now how faithful Zemmour would have been to his own promises. But it is clear from his years of books and columns and speeches that Zemmour, like Trump, is a man of solid convictions who had no motive for seeking power other than a sincere determination to save his country. By contrast, Le Pen, long identified with the immigration issue, felt no hesitation during this campaign about shifting to economic issues when she felt it served her interests.
In any event, France now faces a choice, on April 24, between Macron and Le Pen. The good news is that Le Pen’s chances now look considerably better than they did five years ago. Zemmour, who criticized her lustily during the campaign, has already urged his supporters to unite behind her. Indeed, notwithstanding her wishy-washiness, there’s no other reasonable choice for serious voters. During the last couple of years, to be sure, in a response to the challenge posed by Zemmour, Le Pen, and others, Macron has parroted some of their tough rhetoric about Islam, immigration, and integration – delivering big speeches and making big promises – only to walk it all back. To vote for Macron is to vote for more of the same; it’s to vote for a France that continues its long, fatalistic march into the arms of the ummah.
For the left, needless to say, there’s no choice but Macron: writing in the Guardian on Monday, a French journalist named Pauline Bock, after smearing Zemmour as a “racist,” expressed alarm over the surveys that show Le Pen doing well: “these polls bring the Brexit result to mind. A victory for Le Pen should terrify anyone who cares about democracy and peace.” In other words, Marine Le Pen embodies an existential threat to All Good Things just as horrifying as – gasp – Brexit. For those of us who recognized Brexit as a boon for democracy, what more needs to be said?