Fillon and the art of political suicide
Yesterday, François Fillon surprised everyone by announcing that he would stay on as a candidate for the conservative party, in the face of the summons he received by judges, prior to possibly being charged for conspiracy to commit fraud in the affair of the employment of his wife as parliamentary assistant. Denouncing a “political assassination” by the judges (causing people to ironically compare him to JFK) and claiming that “France is bigger than my mistakes” (a grandiose statement that will likely go down in history), he implicitly stated that he should be judged by the French people at the election, and not by the justice system which he accuses of being politically motivated.
Prior to that, Fillon again demonstrated the sheer incapability of his team to control (and set) the narrative of the campaign, after being largely incognito in the media for the past three weeks. Between the surprise cancellation of his visit to the agricultural fair (a must for any candidate) and his noon press conference, the craziest rumors, including those of his withdrawal and that his wife had been taken in for questioning, broke the internet and reinforced the image of a party that shows little desire to strongly stand behind its candidate.
Following his announcement, the sinking ship got a little lighter when Bruno Le Maire, one of Fillon’s main surrogates and counselor for international relations, and a group of about 20 MPs and mayors, and his deputy campaign manager, withdrew their support for François Fillon, whom they deem is no longer morally qualified to run, in the face of reneging on his pledge not to do so if formally charged by the judges. This was followed just later by the mass resignation of all the staffers who previously supported another candidate in the primary race. This only further reinforces the image of Fillon standing more than ever alone in the face of (self-provoked) difficulties.
The messianic rhetoric he used yesterday has forced people in his party to choose a side and to make a judgment call on whether they think he is guilty of fraud, and the early defections show nothing good for Fillon. Such a method can eventually only turn the first round of the election on a referendum about himself, rather than allowing France to have the real debate of ideas that it actually needs.
The contrast between Fillon’s affairs and Macron presenting his presidential platform at less than a 24 hour difference is, in this regard, absolutely striking. In parallel, Marine Le Pen’s continued trouble with the justice system (her European parliamentary immunity being partially lifted today) in the two cases she may be charged in leaves us with the real possibility that two of the main candidates for France’s presidential election may be facing judicial trouble. Fillon has called on his supporters to protest this Sunday, in what is looking more and more like an “anti-justice system” march (smell the lingering Trumpian odor?) and a final test of whether the people stand behind him.
Overall, the only effect that this decision can have on people is the feeling that politicians like Fillon are not held accountable to judicial decisions, contrary to the “normal citizen” which he claims he is. Fostering further disgust in politics is not a smart strategy faced against someone who openly despises current politicians (Le Pen) and someone who has managed to rekindle some hope in politics (Macron). The one consequence this will have will be to precipitate Fillon’s defeat, but more importantly to diminish the voting level, especially in the second round where a strong defeat will be needed to take Marine Le Pen out of the political game.
Thus, Fillon is not only signing his own suicide, but is also precipitating France closer to the edge of cliff, by increasing polarization within the French population and showing Marine Le Pen that she *is* right about the dirtiness of French politics.