Too many presidents, too few candidates – POLITICO

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign has a major problem: it looks too…presidential.

Macron is poised to come out on top in Sunday’s first round of voting, but polls show he expects a very close race in a runoff with far-right leader Marine Le Pen two weeks later.

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

Observers say the president is in trouble for pursuing a strategy that has made him too much of the pre-eminent father of the nation and global crisis manager — for example, trying to mediate in the war in Ukraine rather than meddling in the rough and turbulent of a traditional campaign when French voters want to hear directly from the candidates.

“In a way, initially, the war suited him perfectly: we wanted to have something in a kind of non-campaign, with a president who had to show himself as a supervising, protective father,” said Raphaël Llorca, a communications expert and author with the Title “The Macron Brand”.

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

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

Macron has taken part in some programs on the main French television channels, such as a program last month devoted to the war. But he has repeatedly shunned invitations to debate, leading opponents and the media to accuse him of escaping democratic competition.

“Neither our constitution nor our customs tell us that a debate between candidates before the first round is the rule or the right way to confront democratic ideas,” Macron said blithely at a press conference last month to unveil his election manifesto.

By contrast, many experts say, Le Pen appears like a skilled communicator who campaigned tirelessly in inland France, focusing on everyday issues, most notably the rising cost of living. “Le Pen ran a proximity campaign and visited many small towns and villages,” said Mathieu Gallard, research director at polling firm Ipsos. “Their trips have not been widely covered by the national press, but have had significant coverage in the local media.”

“She gave a sense of closeness, which is very important to French voters,” Gallard said.

She too started her campaign seven months ago, while Macron only announced his candidacy in March at the very last minute – just before the nomination deadline – although it was an open secret that he would run again.

The late launch of the campaign was partly due to the start of the war — much of Macron’s time was being taken up by the crisis, and aides also believed campaigning at that moment would look bad.

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

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

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

Macron has tried to reach out to voters — but he’s done it in a way that has no personal connection with voters, communications experts say.

YouTube problems

A prime example of his approach is a fiver miniseries on YouTube, produced by his team. The show, titled “The Candidate,” aims to provide a glimpse into Macron and his world, with behind-the-scenes moments and emotional close-ups of a president calling his bodyguards by their first names and his members of the campaign team. Children.”

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

Llorca, author of The Macron brand, said the series was not tailored for a wide audience and seemed to present Macron as a loner burdened with the burden of office.

“This show isn’t aimed at the French, it’s at the Macronists,” Llorca said. “We’re just looking at a lonely Macron, around him no heavyweights, no team, just a few advisers… He’s tired, coughing, even when he comes to his headquarters for the first time, we feel a kind of boredom, people are in.” Suits, grimace… Even he seems to feel it as he says, “We’re going to turn this all on its head.”

Macron has held just one major rally – last Saturday at the massive Défense Arena in Paris, when he delivered a two-hour speech in which he laid out what he saw as his achievements on a stage shaped like a boxing ring.

But the president couldn’t land KO punches. What had been billed as an Obama-style event full of razzmatazz and energy ended up having little impact.

“This big rally that had to be the climax [of his campaign] didn’t change anything,” Deshayes said. “It didn’t convey a message that would seal the deal.”

Two days later, polls showed Le Pen catching up with Macron, prompting a reaction from his team. He has given at least five interviews since Monday — a rare departure for a president who has a reputation for distrusting journalists, who often complain of excessive news scrutiny by the Elysée and a lack of access to Macron.

Deshayes said Macron’s detachment from the media stems from his experience as a senior adviser to his unpopular predecessor, François Hollande, whose close relationship with reporters didn’t seem to benefit him much.

“The fact that he has difficulty communicating with the press stems from trauma with Hollande,” Deshayes said. “I was in the Elysée at the time [as Hollande’s deputy chief of staff] and to have seen a president who was constantly interacting with journalists…at one point, that complicated the tasks of Hollande’s team…and it encouraged Macron to limit communications and favor a power-based relationship.” Too many presidents, too few candidates – POLITICO

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