Emmanuel Macron is one the luckiest politicians I know of. Running as a candidate of his own party, Macron normally would have been a no-hoper in France’s 2017 presidential elections. But the Socialist Party imploded and the center-right party’s candidate was a caught in a serious scandal.
Macron thus made the run-off election. There, he had the good fortune of squaring off against the vastly unpopular Marine Le Pen. Macron waltzed to victory.
Mistaking luck for genius, or pretending to, Macron immediately grabbed an over-sized role on the world stage. Benefiting again from good fortune — the downward spiral of Angela Merkel — Macron presumed to be Europe’s leading figure and, as a globalist and anti-nationalist/populist, set himself up as a counterweight to President Trump.
He cut a fine figure.
But not with French voters. Viewed favorably by 66 percent of them when first elected, Macron’s rating now stands at 29 percent. Even Nicolas Sarcozy and Francois Hollande didn’t see their approval ratings plummet that far that fast.
Macron’s arrogance is probably the best explanation for his unpopularity. If we look for one incident to explain it, we should focus on the Benalla Affair. Alexandre Benalla, Macron’s personal bodyguard, off-duty but wearing a riot helmet and police tags, beat up protesters. Afterwards, Macron appeared to attempt a cover-up.
Yesterday, Macron reshuffled his cabinet. He no doubt hopes the reshuffle will boost his popularity, but he had no choice in any case. Several prominent cabinet members had resigned, blasting Macron in the process.
If anything, though, the reshuffle seems to reinforce Macron’s image for arrogance and cronyism, with a significant dose of cynicism mixed in.
Macron named Christophe Castaner as Interior Minister. In France, the Interior Minister oversees national security. Given the terrorist threat posed by Islamists, this is probably the most important position in the cabinet.
What are Castaner’s credentials for this post? He’s a loyalist, having run ran Macron’s presidential campaign. And he was a Socialist, thus adding political balance to the cabinet.
What is his experience with national security issues? None that I can discern.
Recognizing Castaner’s lack of fitness for the job, Macron selected Laurent Nunez as his deputy. Nunez has extensive national security experience. The idea, apparently, is for Castaner to be the face man, while Nunez runs things.
This cynical approach to protecting France may sound good in theory, but if terrorism rears its head to an appreciable degree in the coming months, Macron will seem too clever by a half. He is.
To be fair, Macron’s biggest problem is the same one that plagued Sarcozy and Hollande, the French economy. The unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent.
Last month, Macron advised a gardener who complained to him about being out of work to cross the street and find a job in a restaurant or cafe. It was good advice, actually. However, it apparently did not play well with the French, an entitled populace if ever there was one.
It may take more than good luck for Macron to pull himself out of the hole. In the meantime, if he focuses on domestic affairs rather than on supplanting Merkel and rallying Europe against Trump, the world will be a better place.