The Conservative Lessons of Sarkozy’s Victory
On the first ballot on March 22, the global classic Right (Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and smaller groups) garnered 36.6% of the vote. On the face of it, the global Left did as well or even better with 36.7 % of the vote. But the global Right was much more compact and united than the global Left. Marine Le Pen’s National Front, which was supposed to emerge as a rival for the classic Right, stayed well behind at 25.4%.
On the second ballot on March 29, the global Right got 45% of the vote, thus crushing both the global Left (32.12%) and the National Front (22.30%). Sarkozy is clearly (and some say, unexpectedly) now restored as the legitimate champion of the Right, and a likely winner along with UMP of the 2017 presidential and parliamentary election.
Sarkozy relied on a two-edged strategy. On one hand, he ran a tough campaign on many issues that are usually seen as the preserve of the National Front, including the jihadist threat and the need to bring back patriotic values. Moreover, he did not tell his voters to vote for the Left rather than for the National Front in those constituencies where the classic Right was too weak to make it by itself.
On the other hand, he distanced himself from the National Front platform by referring to it as something "impractical" which could not possibly be translated into real life. Marine Le Pen succceeded in avoiding the racist or anti-Semitic statements her father -- Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front’s founder -- was and still is fond of. (Even Roger Cukierman, the chairman of the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations, gave her credit for that.) However, she stands for radical options most French people are not in favor of: leaving the European Union, forsaking the euro, engaging in a statist and near autarkic economic experience, reneging on NATO and the American alliance, and striking a deal with Putin’s Russia.
Sarkozy’s strategy paid off. From now on, the chances are that Marine Le Pen loses both her conservative wing and her Marxist wing, which may swing back to the Left.
There is a lesson here for conservatives in other countries, including for the GOP in America: be staunchly conservative and discard any shade of political correctness, while avoiding extremism. Conservatism was born with Edmund Burke as the rejection of French Revolution utopianism. The essence of conservatism to this day is to frown upon utopias, even right-wing ones.