berner5_BERTRAND GUAYPOOLAFP via Getty Images_eric zemmour BERTRAND GUAYPOOLAFP via Getty Images

The Trumping of France

Without even saying whether he will run in next year’s French presidential election, Éric Zemmour, the French far-right essayist and television talking head, has given all of the other parties much to worry about. Whatever he decides, the campaign is already certain to focus on the divisive issues that extremists favor.

PARIS – According to a new poll that sent shockwaves through France, Éric Zemmour, the far-right essayist and television talking head, would get 17% of the vote were he to run in the upcoming presidential election. That puts him in second place, ahead of Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally.

Known since the early 2000s for his popular television appearances and regular column in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, Zemmour has become an important player in a political game that he hopes to destabilize – though he remains vague about his own possible presidential bid. His political megaphone is CNews, an influential TV channel backed by the billionaire Vincent Bolloré, a major owner of the Vivendi group. Although its top-rated programs do not usually attract more than 800,000 viewers, CNews has doubled its audience in four years, putting it in second place among France’s four 24-hour news channels.

The company’s business model combines topical news coverage with commentaries and debates that simplify complex issues, often featuring extreme positions. The key to both CNews and Zemmour’s recent success is that they have absorbed a lesson from Donald Trump: be extreme and provocative. Zemmour’s latest high-profile outburst, for example, was to call for a ban on “foreign” names like Mohammed.