December 9th was the first of the Elysee 2022 debates with Eric Zemmour. He entered the race on December 1st and subsequently announced his party name “Reconquete” [Reconquest]. The format was a brief interview with him on a few questions, a long debate with a government official, followed by video questions, and at last a brief debate with a special guest. The media wanted to hold a tough interview and takedown, but were incompetent. In our introduction to Zemmour, we predicted the media would inadvertently “blast Zemmour’s message far and wide”. One hundred percent correct. The media has entered Zemmour’s frame entirely and have started getting caught in the many traps he has set for them. His skills are so strong, they are totally invisible to his opponents. Like Schopenhauer said “Talent hits a target no one can hit, genius hits a target no one can see”.
For a populist nationalist to triumph in France, he has a huge task ahead of him- namely taking on a media and a political classthat hate you and have the messaging on lockdown. Zemmour is of the establishment, but is the only one on the right in France able to change it, given his wizard levels of persuasion. We will break down the many choices he has made up until now and why this is strategy is already winning, as backed by data. It will take time to re-program the message fully, but this was a great start. And he brought out a special surprise that only those very skilled in politics can spot.
At ski resorts, they have alarms that warn of pending avalanches. It’s time for the Elysee Palace to sound the alarm for the impending landslide from Mount Zemmour.
General Debate Strategy
While embarrassing your opponent in a debate is always good, it’s hard in the French format, and frankly they are all light years ahead of American candidates in skill. Thus, the goal is mainly to create a ton of confirmation bias for potential voters. That is when you are presented a narrative …and then later statements/events/images confirm or reinforce that initial narrative. Confirmation bias essentially means that you feel the narrative you are being told is true, and it continues in your mind. Used by a skilled persuader, it can be like a laser pointer to focus on the messages and images you want to reinforce. Donald Trump is a genius at confirmation bias – every time there was a whiff of scandal in 2016, it confirmed the “Crooked Hillary” label. Every time Jeb Bush calmly stood there, it confirmed he was “Low Energy”. The opposite is cognitive dissonance- when narratives and images contradict.
Zemmour’s job here is to make everyone confirm the frame he has set up. He has laid out countless topics where things he knows the media and other candidates will explicitly or implicitly repeat his message. His job is to reinforce his own points and steer the discussion of major issues in his direction. Tonight he did very well- “The establishment are all sell outs” – they bring on a minister who switched teams. “They will call me a racist/misogynist or worse”. Check. He says we are being replaced in our own country- they do a segment on the Great Replacement. Check. Images linking De Gaulle and Zemmour. Check. “French sovereignty is at risk”- they ask a question about a French arms deal which was in fact negotiated by Germany. Check.
He has another goal. He has to create cognitive dissonance on the criticisms. He has to get people to not believe what they have heard- all the usual stuff about being a fascist, a racist, hating women and Muslims. He has to take the oxygen out of those. Or to reprogram people to see those as propaganda because he is combating a crooked establishment. He is doing a good job of laying that out. Once we get to likely March, and people believe all the attacks on him are propaganda from a failed establishment monster scared of a reluctant hero, he will have succeeded in dominating the issue.
A more general campaign strategy, which has to filter down to the debates, is to continually move the Overton window his direction. His main policy proposals would have been in the unthinkable camp ten years and not allowed on TV. As a pundit, he dragged them to radical. Now by putting in the work on debates, he can paddle hard until they get into the window. His political jujitsu skills will no doubt help in future debates.
Reviewing the Various Segments
[in French, English version coming on this channel]
In this planned tough interview/takedown, the media made many inexplicable choices. They carried his one minutecampaign video to start the broadcast. Thanks for the free ad time guys! It had tons of French patriotism and hero imagery. In it, he laughed off the idea he is a racist. He spoke of the importance of the women in his family. It closes with a powerful call to action, to “Reconquer” the country.
When later on, they brought out the inevitable attacks saying he’s inexperienced and misogynistic etc etc, they fizzled. That is because the visuals they carried earlier do not match the words they are trying to label him with. It was the equivalent of presenting a minute of footage of a candidate meeting head of states, at important functions, signing treaties – and then later calling him unpresidential. Completely ineffective.
Then there was the interview segment lasting about 15 minutes, where two hosts took turns asking questions of Zemmour. The jujitsu skills were on full display. They hit at him on several issues, but made a crucial mistake by asking why he ran first. He presents the story of his reluctant hero self, forced to run against the failed establishment because no one else could. He later comments, when a poll shows voters find him inexperienced, “all the other politicians are administrators and accountants”, so he had to run and he is glad that he does not have prior political experience.
Two other highlights were from polling data. “The first poll finds you misogynistic”. He has a nice defense overall- he smartly says it’s a caricature, a totally invented term of political propaganda. He was raised by women. What threatens women now is radical Islam and immigrants. He simply wants women to be able to wear skirts and to feel safe on public transport. Who could be against that?
During the segment they put on the screen images of his speech, and images of him and De Gaulle. More free advertising and media confirming his narrative.
After that there was a long segment on the health care system which really didn’t benefit or hurt anyone. Then a small segment on the current state of EU relations and defense deals with Germany where Zemmour shows how useless the French politicians are. He calls Macron an ideologue and in favor of EU sovereignty not French sovereignty. His messaging is working here. The media tried a gotcha moment about complimenting Macron, but Zemmour easily stepped out of it.
Then they brought out Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy. He is a decent debater and represents the government well. It then went into the standard, long form, back and forth French debate.
There was a discussion on the economy that lasted about 30 minutes that was a draw I would conclude. It was mostly numbers and technical terms such as the national debt. People don’t really win elections on economic arguments, unless they are bolted to powerful messages or the economy has just crashed. Obama luckily had both. Zemmour’s trying to reframe the theme as being about the “Impoverishment of France”, I think is a good setup. It complements his main message well, of establishment failure. But he needs a better solution to match with it, crisp and memorable.
Another one he tested was “The Great Downgrade”. There was one moment where he got Le Maire to say the phrase, and admit French families are having problems. Establishment failure admitted, nice confirmation bias moment. But he needs to do more work to make his economic messaging powerful. However, it is certainly helping to move the Overton window on establishment failure. If he can make it obvious that the whole establishment needs to be replaced, then he can easily win.
There was one moment though where Zemmour articulated that he would finance a certain tax cut by cutting social benefits to all foreigners. He wants to take money out of the hands of foreigners, and move it into the hands of the French. He should simplify and repeat that often. And lastly, Zemmour did land a good punch on the nose by pointing out that Le Maire was working with Francois Fillon (the center right candidate of 2017, who left because of a scandal), and criticizing Macron as a candidate with no plan. Six months later, he joined the Macron administration in a prominent role.
They go to the second long debate segment – all about the Great Replacement, a book and term introduced by Renaud Camus. This is the idea that Europeans, particularly the native French, are being replaced in their own countries by Arab and African immigrants. Zemmour has used the term frequently and it is closely related to his identity and immigration arguments. Massive confirmation bias for Zemmour. This is also a massive shift of the Overton Window that he has helped to create—they are now openly discussing a topic which they had long said did not exist. The image of the book was carried the entire segment, another dumb move by the media as it will draw more attention to the topic. This is like having an immigration debate with Trump in 2015/6 and the media titling it “Is Mexico sending its best? Is it sending rapists?”. This is placing the football on the five yard line for a candidate.
We had said in the last article by placing these issues front and center, Zemmour forces others to address them, when they don’twant to or when they will seem weak on the topic. We didn’t think it would be that big, that fast. At one point, he said in his three month tour of France it was voters’ number one request- stop the Great Replacement.
The hosts presented it as a ridiculous idea and mentioned it had inspired the Christchurch, New Zealand mass shooter who killed 51 people. Zemmour swats the topic away immediately, saying “if a few words from a book inspired a terrorist, then we must ban the Quran because it has inspired dozens of attacks”. The attack completely failed because of the immediate jujitsu move.
Then Le Maire discussed his views of it, calling it a “a fear, a phantasm. There’s no Islamic republic and we will prevent political Islam from gaining” … which only confirms Zemmour’s message about political Islam being a threat . Zemmour closed the segment, throwing out a grenade: “90% of youth in Parisian banlieues are of African or North African background. That’s the Great Replacement.” The shock on the hosts’ faces was visible. If that’s what he needs to do to generate attention, so be it. He willlose some voters that way by making them feel uncomfortable, but I bet a whole lot more Google’d the topic after the debate.
Again, by having people see the establishment deny it and obfuscate but then see the same data for themselves, it massively reinforces Zemmour’s narratives. And in their day to day lives, when ethnic French see groups of minorities in public, the confirmation bias will begin to bubble up.
Running His Message –Great Replacement Segment
Running his Message- De Gaulle Comparison
There were several discussions during the debate about things Zemmour has said in the past. Stuff about Vichy French treatment of the Jews during WW2 and various other topics. While he had a vigorous defense on these issues, the establishment landedsome (small) points here. Some of his rebuttals were good and could be recycled in the future. For instance, when confronted about his respect for ISIS soldiers willing to die for something, he said “Well, I always respect my adversaries, and unlike you, I combat them”.
People don’t really vote for a candidate based on individual quotes from the past about minor topics, so it’s not going to hit him hard. But pulling out enough comments of Zemmour on women can make the misogynist label stick to him instead of eventually go away. All the poor connotations make it harder to start the reluctant hero story. And it gives him less time to talk other issues.
Then it moved into a series of one minute video questions from young voters. Most of it was of the run of the mill, but he was able to get a slam dunk on the media when they had a question from a young girl who asked “I am French, and as a Muslim your recent comments on the incompatibility on Islam and France make me feel attacked and unrepresented. What you can do to reassure us?” He responded calmy, slowly, but emotionally that “She has the same name as an Iranian girl who was burned alive by her husband because she wanted to live French style, that’s what I want to prevent. I want women to be able to wear a mini-skirt” A+ visual persuasion and a powerful message. Who could be opposed to that? Spread this clip and this story far and wide.Repeat it each event – he was already repeating it by the final segment that night.
The last question was on renewable energy. He was trying to create a new frame on the pesky climate change / green energy issuethat may work. Right wing candidates always look bad on this issue to younger voters. They look like they don’t care about the environment, want everything polluted, or are indifferent to rising sea levels. Zemmour may attract some Greens in the 2nd round. It won’t be many, but every bit helps. He is for renewable energy, loves hydro, geothermal and nuclear, and solar. France is a world leader in nuclear power and has full sovereignty in it. But he is very much against windmills, arguing they make ugly the great French landscape. He also points out the fact that wind is very unreliable, forcing people to go right back to coal or gas when it’s not available, accomplishing nothing.
Finally, there was a 15 minute debate with a special guest, the Mayor of Marseille, a city with a huge ethnic minority population. It was the standard stuff, but at one point Zemmour was able to nicely reinforce his message on assimilation while debating their Berber heritage. And then two journalists asked questions, but nothing to report there.
Finally, there was a poll at the end on how many voters founds his message convincing. Ipsos found it to be 41%. Of Republicainssupporters, 62% liked him interestingly, whereas as 84% of National Front voters liked him. 20% of lefties liked him. These are excellent first debate numbers. As the party grows (it had been around for 5 days) and the message disseminates, it will grow 3-5% each time out. This shows that he will likely take all the National Front supporters within weeks when he takes his wizard’s staff to Le Pen. They’re probably emailing this youtube link to their friends right now. After that, he is #2 and going to the second round. He will have huge support from the center right LR members in the 2nd round by the time debating is over. 20% with the left is enough to win in the second round but I would imagine he pushes to 30% as he casts his spells.
Polling now for the first round is roughly 14% Zemmour, 16% Le Pen, 20% LR, and high 20’s Macron. That’s a 50% bloc combined, and collecting a few other smaller candidate votes or eventually taking Macron voters is a substantial second round win with a 54-62% total, maybe more if Macron messes up.
The Reluctant Hero
Another polling take away from the debate is that the hero narrative is building. The narrative of the reluctant yet courageous hero which he first introduced in the initial campaign video, fighting the “cold determined monster”, is his most persuasive one. When answering the question on why he chose to run, he perfectly framed this very narrative by telling his ‘origin story’ as a Presidential candidate. He can also use this narrative to kill the ‘inexperienced’ objection through contrast. Together, these narratives reframe the entire race. Every takedown attempt on him will only make him seem that much more courageous and determined against the French establishment.
Polling data showed onscreen during the debate asked people about five issues regarding Zemmour:
- Is a misogynist
- Worries you
- Truly wants to change things
- Is courageous
- Is Presidential
More believe yes, that he is courageous (45 to 42%) and wants to change things (48 to 41%). Media brainwashing over the years has conditioned people to think that he is not qualified, inexperienced and dangerous. Racist and misogynist. It will take time to deprogram that narrative through cognitive dissonance and listening to him in his own words. Playing up the reluctant hero narrative is the fastest way to counter program. The glasses and his performance here (more later) should bump these up positively a few points in the next week.
The emotional power of a hero narrative makes the election a foregone conclusion if it connects, even if subconsciously. Voter enthusiasm for a hero versus who one will cut their taxes 4% is night and day. To succeed, he just has to get to maybe 65% or70% of people thinking he is courageous. Then it will gain momentum – if he gains in popularity, then the attacks will intensify, which makes him look even more heroic. People love hero stories – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Batman are iconic series as a result. People are scared of monsters. No one would want to vote for the monster, and people will cheer the hero through any obstacle.
He Wears Glasses Now
There’s one other subtle yet powerful persuasion tool that Zemmour has trotted out. I noticed at his inaugural rally of 15,000 people that he was wearing glasses for the first time. Maybe he needs them to see those distances, I’m not his eye doctor. But he was wearing them again in this debate. On a hunch, I Googled Zemmour in glasses [en francais] and found essentially zero older photos of him with glasses on. During the debate, he was constantly adjusting them, so they are new glasses or he is new to wearing glasses. His hair looked a little more gray than usual. Then the lightbulb went off.
This is brilliant persuasion. Many commentators noticed that he was wearing glasses, but they don’t know why. This slightly different Zemmour is designed to visually match the new message. Zemmour 2.0, with glasses, is no longer the political pundit and bomb thrower of old. He is now restrained, older, wiser. He is a respectable statesman uniting the French nation. When the media runs bombastic clips of him from fifteen years ago, he will look different enough that it will take a lot of the charge out of the allegedly embarrassing clips. They don’t quite look the same- that was a different Zemmour. During this debate they briefly showed an old photo on the screen behind him, and, yes, they looked different enough. The efficacy of one of the media’s weapons is reduced.
This is Gandalf casting his best spell yet. And it’s subtle, so the pundits can’t really do anything about it – ask him to take his glasses off? Many youtube comments were along the lines “I like Zemmour with glasses”. The amount of centrists who will flow to 2.0 is huge. If moves with this level of persuasion skill are what’s coming down the pipe, I cannot even imagine what he will do to Macron.
After watching this entire debate, there were a few broader conclusions. First, Zemmour’s technique is so good that it is totallyinvisible to the others. The media seems to not even realize what game they are playing. Obama’s “Hope and Change” message and Trump’s MAGA message were quite good, but they were obviously political statements. By keeping things a little more subtle, mainly focusing on language, imagery, and specific issues, Zemmour has completely owned the frame of this campaign. He is paddling hard to move the Overton window on several issues. The fact that he is supremely articulate and very quick on his feet makes it hard for others to land punches. He does not yet own the frame on his personal messaging, that will take time. The glasses and the anti-establishment narrative are helping. And the establishment has no clue why.
Second, the media is lazy and has no idea who they are trying to take down or how to do it. They constantly presented boring phrases on European Union matters and countered Zemmour’s vivid, visual arguments with cliches. Every gotcha moment failed, every tough question was swatted away. Mysteriously, they kept pushing out his images and videos. When they try to present issues like the Great Replacement as a ridiculous and dangerous conspiracy theory, they are giving him points just by talking about. They tried to use it as a hit, and instead Zemmour just draws more attention to it.
As of now, they have not attacked him on his party’s name, “Reconquete”. But as it builds members and candidates, eventually they will come after it and fall further into the trap. If a brave hero wants to reconquer his country from a crooked establishment, that’s a great narrative. Repeating the name and focusing on it will spread that story, and trying to call it provocative and anti-Islamic will fail.
Thirdly, the establishment politicians are very close to falling into his reluctant hero narrative now too. While Minister Le Maire did a very good job of battling Zemmour to a draw multiple times, he also came across as disrespectful and combative. After one bout of interruptions, Zemmour said “this is intolerable” and had to ask the moderators to intervene. Any more aggressive and itwill then make it look they are bullying our hero Zemmour. Also confirming that narrative is when the media heckles Zemmour. When you put three or four up there then it looks like the hydra versus our hero.
My advice to Zemmour
Against great odds, you are making good progress. It will take time to re-program many French voters but at current momentum you are guaranteed second round and very very likely winner. The story of the girl burned alive by her husband because she wanted to live French style is powerfully persuasive, use that in every appearance. Presenting the choice subtly as people burning alive for wanting to wear skirts, or following elder statesman Zemmour 2.0 is a great way to win the issue on Islam and take most of the power from the ‘misogynist’ argument. Keep up all the current messaging. Keep gently pushing the reluctant hero narrative and let that run. Open every public appearance with that same ‘origin story’. The visual persuasion with De Gaulle/ Bonaparte / Joan of Arc imagery is already blowing up.
Only one small suggestion. I would expand the hero, mythical and scary monster persuasion language. Ideas: The media isn’tcriticizing you, “they are shooting arrows at you”. Reconquete is full of “knights for France”. The European Union has “its tentacles” around French sovereignty. The establishment is a ‘hydra’. An opponent is a ‘chimera’. Opponents are “cold, dark, scaly, slithery, slippery”. Sovereign France is in “a spider’s web of bad treaties.” [I think this is actually the strongest] Macron can be Narcissus, staring at his own reflection in the water. Who can be a medusa? Is there some group that’s a bunch of vultures? They have a couple clips with sound of France being the country of ‘chevaliers’, that’s a great visual start. I don’t know how popular Tolkien books/films are in France, or if there is a French equivalent, but maybe tilt slightly to present someHobbit/LOTR echoes in campaign TV and youtube videos. Visual metaphors that France is the land of great elves, the French establishment is Smaug sitting on the French people’s gold, Islamic banlieus are Mordor.