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Confronting the Populists

SAINT-MARTIN-LAGUÉPIE – Here’s a confession: I don’t lie in bed at night missing mainstream politics. Instead, I am spending a week at my house in southwest France, walking around the countryside. The early autumn sun is warm on my back, the trees are starting to change color, and local farmers are preparing for this year’s grape harvest. What’s not to like?

Back in the political world, the answer is quite a lot. On the left and right – few mainstream leaders are having such a good year. In fact, one must search for any notable achievements.

In France, President François Hollande looks like damaged goods as he prepares for next spring’s election. The French economy benefits from high productivity potential and a well-educated work force, but trade unionists and other members of Hollande’s Socialist Party are blocking measures that would restore strong growth. Meanwhile, former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé are vying for control of the center-right opposition in order to challenge Hollande and head off Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front.

Opinion polls indicate that there will be a second-round run-off between Le Pen and either Sarkozy or Juppé, which means that those on the left will have to choose a conventional right-wing candidate if they want to beat Le Pen. She is unlikely to win; but, then again, that’s what most people said about the United Kingdom’s vote in June to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.