PARIS – France’s election season kicked off this week, with candidates for the presidency submitting their applications or holding campaign-like events. But the person who stole the show wasn’t a candidate or even a politician, but a right-wing writer and TV star who channeled Donald Trump.
Éric Zemmour became one of France’s top television celebrities through his expertise on CNews, a Fox News-like channel, despite twice sanctioned for incitement to racial hatred. He dominated media coverage this week as the elections kick off next April.
A poll released on Wednesday shows he is rising among potential voters, declaring candidates like defeated the mayor of Paris. While his stake seems to put the presidency out of reach, it could disrupt the long-awaited scenario of a duel between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen from the far-right national rally.
In a well-organized blitz that blurred the lines between media and politics, Zemmour, 63, one of France’s best-selling authors, published a new book on Thursday titled “France Hasn’t Said Its Last Word” with a cover featuring him Arms standing shows crossed in front of the French flag.
Zemmour said the cover was modeled after Trump’s “Great Again,” the 2015 book that outlined his political agenda before his election victory the following year and that featured Trump in front of the American flag.
The cover, said Zemmour, isn’t the only way Trump has inspired him. While Zemmour shyly fended off long-standing rumors of a possible candidacy, this month he sent stronger signals that he could follow Trump in the jump from television to politics.
“Of course there are similarities,” said Zemmour. “In other words, someone who is completely outside the party system, who has never had a political career and who also understands that the main concerns of the working class are immigration and trade.”
In the two-stage presidential election in France, the two leaders in the first round will meet in a runoff. Macron has aggressively courted the traditional, more moderate right to get a final showdown with Le Pen, whom he defeated in 2017.
“French politics has become completely unpredictable,” said Nicolas Lebourg, a political scientist specializing in far-right and right-wing extremists.
“In this extremely fluid context, it could end with the election of a Republican president after Macron’s defeat because Zemmour scores a few points,” added Lebourg, referring to the Republicans, the party of the traditional right.
The poll, released on Wednesday, found that 10% of voters supported Zemmour in the first ballot, up from 7% a week earlier and 5% in July. He is one of the few candidates to register in the double digits, outperforming some of France’s mainstream parties, including the socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
According to a poll published on Monday, Zemmour is one of the few candidates to receive support from both the traditional French right and the far right – a point he underlined in the interview by saying that the far-right National Assembly “supports the French Deterring the bourgeoisie ”. “While Republicans” have only an extremely aging electorate and do not associate with the youth or the working class “.
The poll also showed he is strong with the working class, men and young voters.
“His direct speech speaks to a generation that is very disappointed in the lies of politicians and very suspicious of the media,” said François de Voyer, moderator and financial supporter of Black Book, a seven-month-old YouTube channel that does long interviews with Zemmour and other personalities has shown, mostly from the right and far right. He said that Zemmour gave the impression of “never hiding what he thinks, even if it means controversial remarks,” adding, “I think it has the effect of instilling trust.”
Still, an election campaign by Zemmour – whose tough views on immigration, the place of Islam in France and its national identity are believed to be to the right of Le Pen – would immediately bring some of the most explosive issues in an increasingly polarized society to the polls.
As a longtime journalist for the conservative daily Le Figaro, Zemmour has become a bestselling author in the last decade with books that describe a France in decline, threatened by an Islam that, in his opinion, does not share the fundamental values of France. His fame and influence rose to another level after he starred on CNews in 2019, where he pitched his ideas to hundreds of thousands of viewers every night at prime time.
He has portrayed himself as a truth-teller in a news medium dominated by politically correct, left-wing journalists. He railed against the immigration of Muslim Africans, citing the existential threat of a great substitute – a charged term that even Le Pen avoided – who will overwhelm France’s more established white and Christian population.
Over the weekend, Zemmour said that if he were president, he would ban “non-French” first names like Mohammed and Kevin because they hampered an assimilation process that made immigrants what he believed to be real French.
Such comments have occasionally attracted the attention of the French authorities. In May, the state broadcaster CNews fined EUR 200,000, or approximately $ 236,000, for inciting racial hatred. On his September 2020 broadcast, Zemmour said that unaccompanied foreign minors should be expelled from France and called them “thieves”, “murderers” and “rapists”.
Some Republican presidential candidates turned down Zemmour’s challenge. Xavier Bertrand, the leader of a region in northern France, said Zemmour was a “big divider”. Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region, said he had “made no real proposals”.
Lebourg said Zemmour’s “ethnic nationalism” was rooted in the ideology of the 1990s National Front, the predecessor of the National Rally led by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Over the years, more than anyone else, Zemmour has succeeded in imposing his vision on politicians on the traditional right, Lebourg said.
Supporters say Zemmour is therefore the only candidate who can appeal to both the traditional right and the extreme right.
“Éric Zemmour has opened the eyes of a certain number of people, including my political family,” said Antoine Diers, a spokesman for Friends of Éric Zemmour, a group that is raising funds for a possible presidential bid. Diers is also a member of the Republicans and a civil servant in the town hall of Plessis-Robinson, a suburb south of Paris.
Because of Zemmour’s influence, Diers said, candidates from his party “are finally taking a position on immigration, questions of identity and French culture“.
Arno Humbert, another member of Friends of Éric Zemmour, said he left the Le Pen National Rally in June after more than a decade, disillusioned with its efforts to increase its appeal by putting their party’s positions in a strategy to weaken the “de-demonization”.
Zemmour was forced to suspend airtime on Monday after the state regulator ordered his airtime to be limited because he could be viewed as an actor in national politics. He and his followers were quick to shout censorship.
When asked whether the decision would ultimately help him to polish his image as a truth-teller among his followers, he said: “Of course.”
“It was a blessing in adversity,” he said.