Hillary Clinton might be the Chirac of the 2016 election

French President Jacques Chirac met Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady in Paris in 1996. (AP / Michel Euler)
French President Jacques Chirac met Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady in Paris in 1996. (AP / Michel Euler)

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will come out of the ‘Super Tuesday’ primaries tonight with the delegates they need to wrap up either the respective Democratic or Republican presidential nominations.USflagFrance Flag Icon

Trump, in particular, will face sustained pressure from Texas senator Ted Cruz, who won Texas and Oklahoma, from Florida senator Marco Rubio, who won Minnesota’s caucuses and only narrowly lost Virginia and even from Ohio governor John Kasich, who may have won Vermont.

But the most likely outcome certainly seems like a Trump-Clinton general election. (And yes, that means I was wrong about my forecast of how the Republican contest would unfold).

There are, of course, reasons to believe that Trump would force a much tougher race against Clinton than Cruz or Rubio, because of his showmanship, his ability to transcend the left-right polarization and his ability to run against the ‘establishment’ choice of Clinton just as easily as he dispatched Jeb Bush.

But there’s also a chance that Clinton will demolish him.

Over the weekend, former far-right Front national leader Jean-Marie Le Pen Tweeted his support for Trump.  

Le Pen, these days, is no longer even at the center of his own party, essentially excommunicated by his own daughter, Marine Le Pen, who has tried to pull her party into the French mainstream (even as both the French left and right have pulled toward Marine Le Pen on immigration in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and more widespread Paris shootings). Meanwhile, Trump is becoming increasingly radioactive as Republican nominee, even by Republicans, who have attacked his equivocating response to questions about support from former Ku Klux Klan member and white supremacist David Duke.

That would make the general election not unlike the second round of France’s 2002 presidential election, when Le Pen pere managed to outpace prime minister Lionel Jospin, the candidate of the Parti socialist (PS, Socialist Party) in the first round.

President Jacques Chirac trounced Le Pen easily in the runoff with more than 82% of the vote.

It’s not likely that Clinton will win 82% of the popular vote in November, but if Trump can’t shake the image of a candidate backed by white supremacists, a thin-skinned tyrant who would build a pointless wall on the US-Mexican border, wage a counterproductive trade war against China and refuse to allow refugees from the Muslim world into the United States, many Republicans may united behind Clinton, just as many French leftists lined up behind Chirac in 2002.

Chirac then, like Clinton now, was a fixture of the political establishment, a prime minister in the mid-1970s and a longtime former mayor of Paris. Chirac, throughout his career, faced the spectre of corruption scandals and ethics clouds hanging over his head, just as Clinton faces now with the use of her private email server as secretary of state and with the propriety of foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation.

None of that mattered in his bid for reelection, and that’s after seven relatively listless years in office, and after parliamentary elections that delivered a victory to Jospin’s Socialists in 1997, paving the way for a left-wing policy turn that Chirac was effectively powerless to stop.

It’s far too soon, in such a volatile election cycle with such an unpredictable Republican frontrunner, to make any predictions about what might happen in eight months’ time.

But if I were Clinton’s top aides, I would be looking very hard to that 2002 election in France as a guidepost as Trump becomes the most anti-immigrant, anti-trade, anti-Muslim vector of racial and class resentment in recent American history.

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