In France the time has come for defectors. Momentum is in Eric Zemmour’s favor and against the poll trend. The 63-year-old presidential candidate promises a “union of the right” and has poached political heavyweights from Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement National (RN) party.
In Cannes, longtime Front National and current MEP Gilbert Collard staged his change of flag: as if there were no precautionary measures in the pandemic, he gave his new “friend” Zemmour a long, heartfelt hug. In turn, he insisted on having Collard celebrate as a harbinger of the “Union of the Right” at his rally in front of more than 4,000 supporters on Saturday. The newcomer was greeted with great applause.
The head of the Rassemblement National Group in the EU Parliament, Jérôme Rivière, had previously announced his move to Zemmour. “The daring, the bravery, the vitality is on Zemmour’s side today,” said Collard. “With him I draw hope again.” He wanted to emphasize that he had nothing against Marine Le Pen. Party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen had renamed the loud-mouthed lawyer Gilbert “Connard” (“complete idiot”). “The day will come when Marine Le Pen will do the same and join Eric Zemmour,” said Collard.
Before him, Philippe de Villiers, one of the most prominent figures of the anti-European right, had hailed Zemmour as a fearless champion of uniting the “patriots”.
The loss of Rieu hurts Le Pen
According to a recent survey by the Ipsos Institute for “Le Monde” and the Jean Jaurès Foundation, Zemmour can count on 13 percent of the votes in the first ballot in April, Marine Le Pen with 15.5 percent. By the Union of the Right, Zemmour means a broad spectrum of voters, ranging from former Sarkozy and Fillon supporters to those who have been disappointed in Le Pen, to the Identitarians.
The founder of the now-banned Generation Identitaire movement, Damien Rieu, also joined Zemmour. Rieu previously worked as a parliamentary assistant to Le Pen’s brother-in-law Philippe Olivier, the spin doctor of her election campaign. That’s why the loss of Rieu, considered a master of campaigns on social networks, is particularly painful. He was given insight into Le Pen’s campaign strategy that he could now use against her.
Rieu officially justified his move with Le Pen’s refusal to accept the theory of “repopulation” and thus downplay the extent of mass immigration. Rieu also joined Zemmour’s Reconquête (reconquest) party. Like Spain, Zemmour believes that France is facing the historic challenge of a Reconquista and has repeatedly advocated the expulsion or total assimilation of Muslims.
Last week Zemmour welcomed defector Guillaume Peltier from the Républicains. Peltier was immediately promoted to campaign spokesperson. Presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse downplayed the loss and immediately had Peltier expelled from the party. Marine Le Pen did not initially react herself, but left her defense to her former partner, the mayor of Perpignan, Louis Aliot. “I remain loyal to Marine because she is the only one who can beat Macron,” Aliot tweeted.
But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. The former chairman of the RN’s junior organisation, Julien Rochedy, said he understood the defectors. If you don’t belong to the closest (family) clan or live far away in the province, it is simply impossible to endure being in the RN party committees. The defeat in the regional elections and the party conference in Perpignan would have increased the discontent. Le Pen promoted her niece’s boyfriend, Jordan Bardella, to party leader during her interim in the presidential campaign.
Campaign donations for Zemmour
But long-serving RN cadres were even more shocked that Le Pen, in the name of “feminization,” brought a lawyer friend of mine to the party executive who had only joined the party the day before the party congress. Alexandra Masson is now acting as one of the campaign spokespersons. Le Pen’s efforts to make the party as female and as non-extremist as possible have met with resentment from many.
The party, which is heavily indebted, also has to conduct a low-cost election campaign, while research by the French press has shown that Zemmour can hardly save himself from campaign donations. Zemmour knows that billionaire Vincent Bolloré, who was recently heard in the Senate, is the most important lender at his side. “No one could have known that Zemmour would become president,” Bolloré justified his support to the senators. “He’s not yet,” corrected a Socialist senator.
Zemmour is speculating that Marion Maréchal, the granddaughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, will also join his movement. Maréchal retired from politics after the defeat of her aunt Marine Le Pen in 2017. She trains “right-wing national” leaders at her own political institute in Lyon. In his speech in Cannes, Zemmour once again took up the idea of a “national revival” that Maréchal defends.
The two traveled to Budapest together last fall and met Viktor Orbán. Zemmour let the supporters of the Rassemblement National and the supporters of the Républicains applaud in the hall. They are all now united “in the common house” of his party. “The right-wing people are in the majority,” Zemmour claimed. He will lead the “Union of the Right” to power.