Pundits, politicos, and bloggers are all buzzing about the French presidential election on Sunday which saw Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative Frenchman, handily defeat his Socialist opponent SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal. Sarko will be handed the reigns of power in about a week. Still up in the air: Whether or not Sarko will have a conservative government alongside him to help him in his plans to reform France. Those elections will be held in early June.
He’s promised to be an ally of the US, which is welcome news to just about everyone but the left. What’s especially noteworthy is not just his promise to be a friend to the US, but the reactions of his supporters to that part of his victory speech, via John Rosenthal:
But what was revealing was the spontaneous applause and cheering that broke out among the crowd when he uttered the words “to say to them that they can count on our friendship”: “pour leur dire qu’ils peuvent compter sur notre amitiÃ©.” You can hear and see it here. The passage on Franco-American relations is just over half way through the tape and a cursor control at the bottom of the media player allows you to skip forward. Even supposing such a pledge of friendship to the United States might — with all the “appropriate” qualifications — be found, for instance, in a speech by Jacques Chirac, it would certainly not receive such an enthusiastic response from his partisans — to say nothing of the partisans of Mme. Royal. This already represents an important difference between the old regime and the incoming new one.
Wow – so like the French actually like us (well a majority, anyway)? Who’da thought?
Anyway, I read a piece this morning which should inspire Republicans who are feeling like next year’s presidential elections have already been decided, who think that because Republicans lost so badly last year, that it’s certain that we’ll have a Democrat elected to the WH in 2008. Newt Gingrich, one of the smartest men in politics, tells Republicans that there is a lot they can learn from Sarko’s victory (bold emphasis mine):
Incumbent French President Jacques Chirac had been twice elected, has served a total of 12 years in office, and is very unpopular. Coming into this election, people were very tired of the Chirac government and there was a sense that there had to be change.
But the opposition on the left, the Socialist Party, failed completely to capitalize on this desire for change. They nominated a candidate of great achievement, SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal, but she proved herself to be the candidate of the status quo, not the candidate of change. She was actually committed to keeping all the bureaucracies that were failing and all the policies that were creating unemployment. She was committed to avoiding the changes necessary for a French future of prosperity, opportunity and safety.
Normally, with the incumbent conservative government so unpopular, the left would have been expected to win the election, probably by a significant margin. But the conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, won decisively because he is an aggressive, different kind of French political leader. He is a member of the Chirac government — the Minister of the Interior. But not only is he a man who is willing to stand up and fight for what he believes in, but Sarkozy is also a man who hasn’t followed the normal French path to success by going to an elite university, becoming part of the ruling elite and fitting in.
As for the opposition in the French election, much like the American Democratic Party, it is trapped by its commitment to big labor, big bureaucracy, high taxes and social values people don’t believe in. Every time French voters seriously looked at SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal and the kind of politics she represents, she lost ground. She simply couldn’t make the case that left-wing Socialist policies would work.
The result was a surprising and powerful upset by Sarkozy — a victory by a center-right reformer, a member of the unpopular ruling party, who came to personify change.
And here’s where American Republicans really need to pay attention: In France, voting for change meant voting for the party in office, but not the personality in office. And voting to keep the old order meant voting for the opposition, not for the incumbent party.
If Republicans hope to win the presidency next year, they better find a candidate who is prepared to stand for very bold, very dramatic and very systematic change in Washington. Not only that, but they had better make the case that the left-wing Democrat likely to be nominated represents the failed status quo: the bureaucracies that are failing, the social policies that are failing, the high tax policies that are failing, and the weakness around the world that has failed so badly in protecting America.
Only if we have that kind of campaign do we have a reasonable chance to expect the American people will vote for effective change for a better, safer and more prosperous future — and that they will see that effective change as being Republican.
Who will be that candidate?
And speaking of the French election and comparisons of it to the upcoming election here, the Hillary campaign is downplaying comparisons between the Senator and Royal. Rest assured had Ms. Royal won on Sunday, becoming France’s first female president, the Clinton camp would welcomed the comparisons and played them up to their advantage.
Related: Jules Crittenden has some words of advice for Sarko.