Too many presidents, not enough candidates – POLITICO

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign has a big problem: He’s come across as too… presidential.

Macron is set to emerge victorious in the first round of voting on Sunday, but polls show he faces a very close race with far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff two weeks later.

A victory for Le Pen would be a political earthquake for France and for Europe. Although she has tried to soften her image and come across as more moderate in recent years, Le Pen and her party have a long history of xenophobia, pro-Putin policies and euroscepticism.

Observers say the president is in trouble because he has pursued a strategy that has over-presented him as a father of the nation above the fray and a global crisis manager – trying to mediate in the war in Ukraine, for example, rather than engage in the tumult of a traditional campaign, when French voters want to hear the candidates directly.

“In a way, the war suited him perfectly at the beginning: we were going to have something in a form of non-campaign, with a president who had to show himself as overseeing everything, as a protective father”, declared Raphaël Llorca, a communication expert and author of a book entitled “La Marque Macron”.

“But the big mistake was considering that this momentum would last until April,” Llorca said.

The president’s refusal to participate in live televised debates with the other 11 presidential candidates reflects a strategy that has been seen as cynical and distant.

Macron has participated in some shows on the main French television channels, such as the one devoted to the war last month. But he avoided repeated invitations to the debate, prompting opponents and the media to accuse him of dodging democratic competition.

“Neither our constitution nor our customs tell us that a debate between candidates before the first round would be the rule or the right way to confront democratic ideas,” Macron said offhandedly at a press conference last month for present their campaign platform.

By contrast, according to many experts, Le Pen appears to be a skilled communicator, who campaigned tirelessly in the heart of France and focused on day-to-day issues, especially the rising cost of living. “Le Pen campaigned locally, visiting many small towns and villages,” said Mathieu Gallard, research director at polling firm Ipsos. “His travels weren’t covered much by the national press but had a big echo in the local media.”

“She gave an impression of closeness, which is very important for French voters,” Gallard said.

She also started her campaign seven months ago, when Macron only announced his candidacy in March, at the very last minute – just before the nominations deadline – although it was an open secret that he would represent himself.

Launching the campaign so late was partly due to the start of the war – much of Macron’s time was spent on the crisis and his aides also thought it would look bad to be an electioneer at this time. the.

“They have postponed all campaign deadlines,” said Vincent Deshayes, director of French media group Havas. Deshayes said if Macron had to “remain president until the end” because of the war, he should have found other ways to ensure his campaign progressed as well.

He noted that Macron did not use his own ministers much as spokespersons and seemed more isolated than ever.

But the late start was also a deliberate strategy by Macron’s team, which had planned a “Blitzkrieg campaign” and wanted the president to enter the political arena at the last minute in hopes of creating maximum impact.

Macron has tried to reach out to voters – but he has done so in a way that lacks a personal connection to the electorate, say communications experts.

YouTube problem

An excellent example of his approach is a five-part study mini-series on YouTube, produced by his team. Titled “The Candidate,” the show is meant to be an inside look at Macron and his world, featuring behind-the-scenes moments and emotional close-ups of a president who calls his bodyguards by their first names and members of his “kids” campaign team.

“I sometimes gave people an image of arrogance,” Macron says in one clip. “I don’t think I’m arrogant, I’m very combative, a bit too much sometimes.”

Llorca, author of ‘The Macron Brand’, said the series was not suitable for a wide audience and seemed to present Macron as a loner weighed down by the burdens of office.

“This show is not aimed at the French but at the Macronists,” Llorca said. “We are only looking at a lonely Macron, without heavyweights around him, without a team but just a few advisers… He is tired, he coughs, even when he comes to his HQ for the first time, we feel a kind of atmosphere of boredom, people are in suits, grimacing… Even he seems to feel it, saying: ‘We’re going to shake things up’.

Macron has held just one major rally – at the giant Défense Arena in Paris last Saturday, when he gave a two-hour speech laying out what he considered his achievements on a stage that resembled a boxing ring .

But the president failed to land any knockout blows. What had been billed as an Obama-style event full of razzmatazz and energy ended up lacking in punch.

“This great rally which was to be the high point [of his campaign] didn’t change anything,” Deshayes said. “It didn’t deliver a message that would seal the deal.”

Two days later, polls showed Le Pen catching up with Macron, prompting his team to react. Since Monday, he has given at least five interviews – a rare departure for a president who has a reputation for distrusting journalists, who often complain of the Elysee’s excessive control of messages and a lack of access to Macron.

Deshayes said Macron’s distance from the media stemmed from his experience as senior aide to his unpopular predecessor, Francois Hollande, whose close relationship with journalists didn’t seem to do him much good.

“The fact that he has trouble communicating with the press comes from a trauma with Hollande,” explained Deshayes. “Having been at the Elysée at the time [as Hollande’s deputy chief of staff] and having witnessed a president who had continuous exchanges with journalists… at one point, it complicated the tasks of Hollande’s team… and it encouraged Macron to lock down communication and favor a relationship of power .

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