Emmanuel Macron is running in 2022.

Macron’s international visibility is helping him at home

In recent weeks Macron has made widely publicized efforts to mediate and defuse Russia’s planned invasion of Ukraine. Prioritizing international affairs over domestic issues, with the hope of averting a tragedy, seemed like a risky political gamble in the midst of a presidential campaign. In fact, it had real political benefits. It allowed Macron to delay his official candidacy, therefore staying above the political fray.

The mediation attempt reinforced France’s international stature, as well as Macron’s own standing — if Macron failed, French voters would blame Putin anyway, and if he succeeded he would get the plaudits. And it forced Macron’s political opponents to clarify their stance on Russia. The far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon publicly defended Putin while Macron was trying to mediate. The obvious brutality of Russia’s unprovoked aggression now puts them in an uncomfortable political position.

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Political parties are still in flux

French political parties are more volatile than in the United States — parties have regularly withered away, or changed names. Still, for many decades, French politics was organized around the division between the left and right.

The 2017 French election washed away that division. Now parties are divided between inward-facing and outward-facing politics — nationalist, isolationist and traditionalist ideology vs. European, globalist and multicultural outlook. In 2017 the French left, which held the presidency at the time of the election, imploded. The Socialists got less than 7 percent of votes in the first round of the 2017 presidential election, and their traditional supporters fled for new homes across the political spectrum, from the populist far-left La France Insoumise, through the Greens and Macron’s new La République En Marche! party, all the way to Le Pen’s National Front. Even today, none of the squabbling candidates on the left polls over 11 percent.

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Today France’s mainstream right is in trouble as well. Valerie Pécresse, candidate of the main right-wing party Les Républicains, is squeezed between Macron at the center and the populist right and far right of Zemmour and Le Pen. Though she might be the most dangerous competitor for Macron in the second round, the latest polls suggest that she’ll have a hard time getting there. If she doesn’t, the result may be a realignment of right-wing parties.

Eric Zemmour is France’s closest equivalent to Trump

First-time candidate and political outsider Eric Zemmour was a best-selling author and later became a media star on CNews — the French equivalent of Fox News — by taking populist positions and railing against globalization, the E.U. and multiculturalism. He has adapted Trump’s tactics to France, even revealing that Trump called him to give him advice and encouragement.

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Like Trump, Zemmour has doubled down on boisterous radicalism. He comes from an Algerian Jewish family but wants France to return to its Catholic past without immigration, Islam, homosexuality and, as the French say, “woke” ideology. Le Pen — the other far-right candidate — has focused on working class and economic issues, allowing Zemmour to emphasize cultural warfare and national destiny.

But unlike Trump, Zemmour used to be an intellectual insider. A graduate of the elite Parisian academic institute Sciences Po, he has written over 20 books and was a political journalist for mainstream papers before venturing into politics. He has never managed a company nor a political campaign.

Macron is credited with fighting the pandemic

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The pandemic has caused over 138,000 covid deaths in France (about 2,000 per million). Initially Macron reacted slowly and was heavily criticized for his amateurish mismanagement of the crisis in the early stages. Failures and delays in producing a French coronavirus vaccine also slowed down the vaccination campaign.

Nonetheless, Macron’s later policies paid off, especially his controversial creation of a mandatory “health pass” (now a vaccine pass) last June. Critics protested that this threatened personal freedom, but it helped push people to get vaccinated. Eventually, the vast majority of the French population (including Macron voters) came to support more stringent measures and sided with Macron, who declared his desire to “piss off” the unvaxxed by making their lives so complicated that they would reluctantly end up getting vaccinated. The lifting of restrictions (such as indoor masking), which took effect this week, is electorally convenient.

French sovereignty is a key issue

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The 2022 presidential campaign is in large part a fight over French sovereignty. Le Pen and Zemmour argue that France has surrendered its ability to shape its destiny and needs to build border controls against Muslim immigrants and Chinese goods to make France great again.

Macron believes that French sovereignty and European Union sovereignty go hand in hand — France can only fight geopolitical challenges and prevent crises together with its European partners.

For the past five years, Macron has argued that Europe should try to achieve what he calls “strategic autonomy.” This would involve the creation of new policy instruments in the complex space between economy and national security, such as foreign investment screening , to help Europe stand up against China.

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Equally, strategic autonomy would allow Europe to survive in a world where, as Trump’s election showed, France can no longer take U.S. friendship for granted. This also helps explain the angry French reaction to the perceived U.S. double-cross, when the White House announced the new AUKUS deal on nuclear submarines last year.