It's amusing to watch Jean-François Copé and François Fillon launch their guerre des chefs while solemnly pretending that there is no guerre des chefs. Copé was even more unctuous than usual last night on France2's JT 20h. He must have worked with a media consultant to cultivate a more "happy warrior" image. He was all smiles and, as usual, glib, wall-to-wall verbiage that added up to nothing.
Meanwhile, Fillon has enlisted the support of the party's chief wonks, Pécresse and Wauquiez, along with the folksier Bertrand. Only Lemaire is missing. And of course Juppé, who is playing his own quiet game. So it seems as if the battle lines are shaping up to pit "the base" against "the elite," which is merely a polite way of saying those who think the road to victory lies in going after the FN vote using whatever it takes and those who would prefer to talk about budgets, university reform, social policy, etc.
In other words, it will be ugly. Copé has yet to explain how his idea of la droite décomplexée differs from Sarkozy's--and, more importantly, from Buisson's. And he has yet to prove that pursuing an escalating rhetorical war on Muslims, insecurity, etc., will actually revive the UMP's fortunes rather than play into the hands of the FN. He cited his own record in Meaux in reducing the FN vote from a high of 23, but he didn't say what he had done to achieve this goal. In any case, he seems determined to bury Fillon under the weight of Sarkozy's failure while at the same time taking over the central themes of Sarkozy's failed campaign. The contradictions will be covered over with smiles and a verbal flow bordering on the hemorrhagic.
Fillon, on the other hand, remains the Knight of Doleful Countenance. It's hard to see how he overcomes his initial deficit in internal support. His phlegmatic appearance lacks Copé's beauf appeal. Right-wing parties everywhere are succumbing to populist fevers, and Fillon is not a natural populist. Copé--a corporate lawyer with the look of a high-pressure, low-ethic used car salesman--might not seem a natural charmer of the angry petite bourgeoisie either, but he's been honing his act for quite some time and seems to have made headway with the Café du Commerce crowd. But let's see if his smarmy manner can really survive five years of constant exposure as the leader of the Right. My guess is that it won't. But then I've never liked the guy.