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Thoughts On The First French Presidential Debate

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With the best candidate in the swamps, caricatures of the political landscape have risen to the top and are dominating discourse. Admit it though, President Le Pen sounds way cooler than President Macron.

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I can’t believe I feel sorry for this guy.

When the main five candidates for the French presidency met for the first time on Monday night for a debate, it would be a culmination of months of disorder and dread. Fillon, for a long time the clear frontrunner had crashed and burned in an expenses scandal, yet refused to back down. Macron had appeared amidst the rubble and engineered a campaign that has given him a lead in some polls (as it stands). Le Pen was lurking in the background, as she always was and, likely, always will. Forever a threat, but never one that risks the presidency.

This all showed itself in yesterday’s debate. Fillon, though strong on message, appeared visibly tired. The guy’s balancing a presidential campaign with a criminal investigation into his family – that can hardly be reassuring. Having said this, his political posturing meant he came across as moderate solution to the problems Le Pen vows to tackle in a less unconvincing way. I think this debate can do nothing but good for Fillon’s perception, especially given the human side we saw of him. He became rather likeable, laughably dismissing Mélenchon’s relentless attacks against pretty much everyone.

Macron was full of energy, and of tired taglines. Despite being the most boring of the candidates, one can only presume that his campaign had chosen that by choice. Constantly, he postured himself as the enlightened centrist who picks and chooses the ideas of his fellow candidates. His high point was his impassioned rant at Le Pen, which left her without an idea of what to do but to giggle. His low point was his clear thin-skinned nature. Whenever a candidate would slip him a sly insult, he just couldn’t let it go and went into defense mode despite not really needing to.

Marine Le Pen was Marine Le Pen and she was entirely predictable. She was very strong in her message on immigration, naturally, and that can do only to benefit her in the modern political landscape. It can’t make her win though. To do that she’d need to change her surname, because nothing is as deadly as being a Le Pen when it comes to electability. But being a tired old populist is hardly healthy too.

Speaking of old populists, Mélenchon was far from tired. Rather, he was the most interesting candidate on the floor. Somewhat of a firestarter, he appeared as a genuinely revolutionary alternative to the irrelevant Benoît Hamon. The latter had a moment when he ripped into Macron, but then retreated back to his failed message. Mélenchon made it clear, though, that he stands for change – whatever good that may do for his polling.

I can only think about how the next four years of French politics will trod along. President Macron, with a parliament that doesn’t support him and a populist movement growing in his presence. Had Fillon not been swamped down with scandal, his presidency would have been more solid for France’s future political landscape. Macron, it is true, will continue the legacy of Hollande. No matter how much he appears to be a hip young outsider, he will always, to the populists, be a banker and former Socialist minister.

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