Emmanuel Macron courted the French electorate with the same uncanny combination of winsome charm, implacable will, and clever calculation that he drew on to woo his high-school drama teacher, who would later become his wife. To judge by his astonishing presidential run, and now by the substantial majority (308 out of 577 seats) that his fledgling party has won in the National Assembly, it might seem that he has made yet another remarkable conquest.
But that would be an exaggeration. The French remain wary of smooth-talking charmers, and the record-low turnout in the second round of the legislative elections on June 18 is but the latest indication that voters have not all swooned over Macron. They are not sure, in their heart of hearts, that they really want the change he has promised, which they suspect in any case will prove futile. Indeed, at the inception of his candidacy, the conventional wisdom was that Macron would lose precisely because he represented not change but rather more of the same: He was “Hollande bis,” his detractors charged, and because of outgoing Socialist president François Hollande’s extreme unpopularity, it seemed certain that the man he had once hailed as his “spiritual son” could not win.
Macron deliberately let his impatience show. To be sure of making an impression, he often spoke out of school, earning the occasional paternal rebuke. Undaunted, the young protégé proclaimed that he was not the president’s “servant.” So persistent were these seeming slips, so well contrived to create the image of a man who knew precisely where he would go, if only he could free himself from the fetters imposed by timorous superiors, that it was hard to avoid the conclusion that they were calculated. While serving Hollande, Macron artfully painted (or induced the media to paint) a portrait of himself as his patron’s exact opposite: bold rather than cautious, frank rather than secretive, decisive rather than hesitant, steely rather than gelatinous.
Impatience has always been Macron’s hallmark, since long before he came into Hollande’s orbit. He left public service for a time when climbing the hierarchical ladder proved too slow. He subsequently quit the private sector, despite a rapid rise in the world of mergers and acquisitions, when President Hollande invited him into the inner sanctum of state power, first as a presidential adviser, then as minister of the economy. While still serving in the latter post, he began raising money for En Marche, the movement that would eventually become his presidential vehicle. And he began recruiting candidates to run under the aegis of the “presidential majority” months before his own victory was assured.