Is Zemmour the French Trump?

The pundit has gone from peddling far-right rhetoric on the French version of Fox News to serious political contender

- BY BRENDAN COLE @brendanmar­kcole

ÉRIC ZEMMOUR becoming president of France would be a “disaster,” one political operative in Paris tells Newsweek as the shadow of the far-right TV host looms increasing­ly over next year’s election.

Over the last few weeks, Zemmour—who was born in Paris to a Jewish family from Algeria—has been promoting his best seller France Hasn’t Had Its Last Word, which claims that Islam and immigratio­n will destroy the country.

On screen and on the front pages, the 63-year-old is riding a wave of media prominence built upon his popular talk show on Cnews, a rightwing television network likened to

Fox News that in May became France’s

No. 1 news network for the first time.

He openly promotes the “Great Replacemen­t” narrative—a conspiracy theory that white people are being “replaced” by non-white, non-european immigrants; has been condemned for homophobic views; and in a show last year, called unaccompan­ied migrant children “robbers,” “murderers” and “rapists.”

It is the kind of demagoguer­y not out of place on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, for which the anchor has been criticized for his pronouncem­ents on the same topics and who also has been the subject of speculatio­n over a potential presidenti­al run.

Many commentato­rs have also dubbed Zemmour “the French Trump,” pointing to parallels between the Frenchman and the former darling of Fox News, ex-president Donald Trump, whom Zemmour admires and channels in his anti-establishm­ent rhetoric.

“There are plenty of points in common with Trump—the television aspect, there is also an aspect in attitudes to women and femininity,” says Emmanuel Rivière, director of internatio­nal polling at Kantar Public, a respected political bellwether in France.

“There is also a parallel in that they appeal to an alliance of older conservati­ves and wealthy people and frustrated and anxious, white blue-collar workers,” Rivière says.

“The ethnocentr­ic feeling has mostly declined over the last 15 years, but Zemmour has increased the freedom to express some radical ideas,” he adds.

Zemmour has not declared his candidacy, but one survey in early October indicated his chances were good if he were to throw his hat in the ring

for the ballot’s first round on April 10, 2022, with a possible runoff two weeks later.

A Harris Interactiv­e poll predicted Zemmour would get 17 percent of the vote, only seven points behind the centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

More significan­tly, he was two points ahead of far-right mainstay Marine Le Pen, who has tried to broaden her base in recent years, renaming the party her father once led from Front National (National Front, in English) to Rassemblem­ent National (National Rally).

“He is fishing in the same water as Marine Le Pen,” Rivière says. “He can get some support from the center-right or the political right because he has a better image among older people who have been hostile to Front National and the Le Pen name.”

In a country in which Macron managed to take the presidency in 2017 without having held elected office before—as Trump did in the U.s.—there is concern among the establishm­ent that the era of the outsider could prevail again.

‘Huge Difference­s’: Trump and Zemmour

Rivière say, however, that his pollster’s monthly barometer of political sentiment conducted since 1976 for the newspaper Le Figaro, which Zemmour has worked for, suggested the Cnews host had a long road ahead to becoming president.

When asked which figure people wanted to play an important political role in the coming months, he was only in 12th place, with 19 percent.

“We have never had a personalit­y at this ranking at this level of popularity in October becoming president the following year,” says Rivière who sees “two huge difference­s” between Trump and Zemmour.

“As opposed to Trump, Éric Zemmour will never have the opportunit­y to be supported by a strong political party,” he says.

“The second is that Trump was famous as a businessma­n and in the U.S. being successful as a businessma­n makes you credible to run the economy of a big country. This could be the weakness for Zemmour. He has no such background.”

Pushback from the center and the right is likely to build in the coming months. More than 3.8 million tuned in to September’s televised debate between Zemmour and left-wing Jean-luc Mélenchon, the founder of democratic-socialist party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed).

Meanwhile, Macron, who has not declared his candidacy, is set to use former conservati­ve insiders from the administra­tion of ex-center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy to help his campaign, Reuters reports.

This is in response to concerns that Zemmour could outflank Le Pen on the far-right, splitting its vote and thus giving the center-right an open door to the election’s second round. Polls show this poses the biggest threat for Macron’s chances for a second term, the agency reported.

“The moment is particular­ly explosive in France and is even favorable to the election of a Donald Trump with a more intellectu­al image like Zemmour, says Philippe Corcuff, author of The Great Confusion: How the Far-right Is Winning the Battle of Ideas.

“In French politics, historical­ly, the intellectu­al image is important for politician­s,” he tells Newsweek, pointing to the urbane veneer cultivated by Macron and before him, the country’s longest serving head of state, François Mitterrand, who was president between 1981 and 1995.

Zemmour in his view, is benefiting from the media’s love of “new and unexpected figures who seem to upset the traditiona­l frameworks.”

“He has also been one of the protagonis­ts of an extreme ideologica­l right-wing movement for the past 10 years, his person allows for a more direct link with electoral politics,” says Corcuff, who is an associate professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon, France.

Corcuff says public spaces in France, such as social media, “are

becoming far-right, but not French society as a whole.”

However, he believes France now has “an explosive mix of resentment­s and frustratio­ns associated with a profound discrediti­ng of profession­al politician­s.” He says this can be captured by the ultraconse­rvative ideologica­l stance of Zemmour.

“The left is in crisis, with its nose to the grindstone,” says Corcuff. “It has long developed an arrogance about its supposed intellectu­al superiorit­y.”

“It does not want to believe that the victory of a Zemmour is possible—like large parts of the American left believed before Trump’s victory in 2016.”

Corcuff expects polling to feed the media coverage of Zemmour, creating a snowball effect which gives credibilit­y to Zemmour’s candidacy and making possible what was until recently unlikely, his victory next April.

On the other hand, Zemmour’s adversarie­s hope his star will wane once he declares himself a candidate, which requires 500 signatures from elected officials, millions of euros to campaign and not least, a manifesto detailing policies, not polemic.

Also, France’s media regulator has ruled that because he should be considered a politician, not a journalist, his airtime on Cnews should be limited.

‘A Disaster, But He Could Win’

However, His instincts Honed on France’s answer to Fox News, mean the Tucker Carlson-style rhetoric on the campaign trail would be likely to grab many headlines, even if it turns a few stomachs.

Gaspard Gantzer—former adviser to François Hollande, Macron’s predecesso­r—said that Zemmour will exploit the weaknesses on the right. “Macron is good,” he tells Newsweek, but those within his party “seem to be too confident.”

Gantzer adds that Zemmour “proposes a very simple analysis of problems because he understand­s perfectly how to be at the center of media attention.”

“It would be a disaster, but he could win.”

“[The left] does not want to believe that the victory of a Zemmour is possible—like large parts of the American left believed before Trump’s victory in 2016.”

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 ?? ?? A LOT OF TALK Clockwise from top left: Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson; far-right demonstrat­ors supporting Zemmour on his book tour in 2015; President Donald Trump in 2019; Emmanuel Macron during a presidenti­al campaign rally in 2017.
A LOT OF TALK Clockwise from top left: Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson; far-right demonstrat­ors supporting Zemmour on his book tour in 2015; President Donald Trump in 2019; Emmanuel Macron during a presidenti­al campaign rally in 2017.
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