If Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump are very different in personality, background and politics, I do believe that there are some important similarities between the two men. Let me be absolutely clear, Macron is no Trump. Trump is a genuine populist and maverick. Macron is a highly manufactured independent. However, Macron has managed to get to where he has with a few principles that, I believe, are very similar to Trump’s. And, if elected, Macron would do well to learn from Trump’s first 100 days.
Brand Trump and Brand Macron – birds of a feather?
I know it sounds a bit provocative, but Trump and Macron do share several common points. At a superficial level, coming into the election, neither Macron nor Trump had ever previously held elected office. Moreover, neither really belonged to a party. Trump only became begrudgingly the Republican candidate. Macron, who split from the Socialist party, for his part will naturally morph his En Marche “movement” into a new political party. But, more importantly, both Trump and Macron absolutely embody their ‘movement.’ There is no feasible replacement. They have both succeeded thus far by creating the cult of the individual. Brand Trump and Brand EM (En Marche = Emmanuel Macron) embody their base. Yet, just as great brands are all about trust, both Trump and Macron [will] have their work cut out in moving from “BIG” words to significant action to create a trusting clientele (in the form of the voting public).
1/ Pragmatism versus a Programme
As has now been widely covered, Donald Trump is very much in the mold of Andrew Jackson. His politics are being called Jacksonian. He is not an ideologue, but an unabashed pragmatist, which is a common trait for businesspeople. As cited in the right wing National Review, “Not since Richard Nixon have we had a president… less committed, or beholden, to a fixed ideological program.” He’s a pragmatist, believing that he knows how to call the best shot as the situation arises. As such, we’ve seen Trump change course and policy frequently in these first 100 days according to what he believes is best at time of decision making. In large part, this is because he has also found out the realities of what it is to be president of the US.
“I’m like a smart person.” – Donald Trump
Macron, for his part, is also labelled as a pragmatist. In an RFI interview, Jean Arthuis, founder of the Centrist Alliance, said that “He is pragmatic, for the free markets, pedagogical and an experimenter” (« Emmanuel Macron est pragmatique, libéral, pédagogue, expérimentateur »). Macron himself said in an RTL interview: “We don’t care about the programme. What counts is the vision.”
It is the left-leaning LeMonde that published the explicit article entitled, “Emmanuel Macron, the man without a programme” (“Emmanuel Macron, l’homme sans programme“). As was noted in that LeMonde article, Macron has pinned his hopes on “winning the centre by betting more on trust [in him] than on his programme” (“L’ancien ministre espère l’emporter au centre en pariant davantage sur la « confiance » que sur des propositions.”) In 1995, Macron himself said to the Journal de Dimanche: “It’s a mistake to believe that a programme is at the heart of an electoral campaign.” In the same interview, he refers to politics as “mystical” and “magical.” Further, he published an article in which he wrote, that “Neither speech nor action can be part of a [political] programme that we’d propose for an election or to which we might hold ourselves in the course of a five-year term.” (« Le discours comme l’action politique ne peuvent plus s’inscrire dans un programme qu’on proposerait au vote et qu’on appliquerait durant les cinq années du mandat (2). » Of course, both Macron and pre-elected Trump had some stump ideas. However, both would wish to rely on a “make it” as it happens approach and not be held to a list of policies.
The UNINTENDED consequence of a lack of a programme :
For Trump, the consequence of having a “pragmatic” approach has been that no one in his own team knows where he stands. For anyone to do a job while reporting into someone, it’s highly destabilising not to know what your boss believes or wants. Moreover, in an attempt to coalesce legislative support, it is difficult for other democratically elected politicians to galvanise support in their own constituency around a leader without a programme. As much as presidents get elected based on their personality and brand image, ongoing voting at the legislative level will tend to be about specific initiatives that are transcribed as being beneficial on a personal and/or local level. In this regard, messaging — or “narrative” as the media savvy people call it — becomes very important. In order for the president’s administration to get through to the outer layers, having a programme and a “party line” serves an important purpose. But if that message is in constant flux, no amount of “spin” will clear things up.
2/ Changing of the guard
Both Trump and Macron share a second common pitch: they say they are the men who will bring in a changing of the guard compared to the old institutional, familiar faces in government. As Trump put it, he wants to “drain the swamp” by removing the cronies. Macron, similarly positions himself as anti-establishment and has pledged to have a government filled with new faces. The types and profiles with whom they surround themselves is/will be, of course, very different. For example, as opposed to Trump, Macron has stated that he wants 50% of his candidates for the legislatives to be women, which de facto means new faces considering that, today, only 15% of those elected in France are women. For Macron, who went to the elitist ENA school, worked for Rothschild and then was Economy Minister for two years in Hollande’s oh-so-institutional government, it is a quantum leap of faith to believe he will be able to do without the rearguard old guard that was responsible for getting him to where he is. Macron is a not a self-made man.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF REMOVING THE OLD GUARD
As Trump has experienced, Macron could hit a serious roadblock with such a spring cleaning in that, ultimately, the experience of those cronies is exactly what helps push through (or quash) initiatives. Beyond the elected officials, there are the civil servants and it takes experience and the forging of relationships to know how to move through such labyrinthian networks. When you don’t have them onside, the going can get tough. If Trump finds the bureaucracy too much in the US, Macron’s task will be even more daunting since slightly more than 56% of French GDP goes toward government spending (vs 36% in the US). (Source)
For Trump, in his first 100 days, he has had to backtrack on a number of “bold” initiatives. The installed base of power — including people within his own party — has brought its might to bear. George Ajjan, a Republican strategist, was cited in the Guardian: “[Trump’s] transition team draws heavily on the GOP beltway establishment, which should not surprise anyone, because even Trump needs people who know how to move papers from one desk to another if he’s to ‘Make America Great Again.’ One other thing that Trump does, which I applaud, is to call on people outside of the immediate ring of advisors. “He frequently turns to outside friends and former business colleagues for advice and positive reinforcement.” [Source Reuters] It’s only too easy to get closed off in an ivory tower.
Whereas it may seem like a great idea to bring in new blood, the reality is that the establishment has its purpose. More pertinently, the civil servants know how to block initiatives, especially ones that attempt to remove the ‘institutional’ benefits of the elite block in power. Macron will need to find a fine balance of old and new in his mix, pulling from both the left and right. And, caveat emptor, if Macron goes too far right, in an effort to unwrap the ‘social’ blanket that protects the masses, the raucous crowds will undoubtedly manifest themselves in the streets.
3/ The president to everyone?
As do all newly elected presidents, both Trump and Macron have claimed that they are/will be the president for all its country’s citizens. For the large part, we all know this is hubris. For Macron and Trump, the challenge of getting unity is diametrically opposed. Macron must find a path, torn between two sides. Trump is a right wing populist, far removed from the left. And, yet, they both want to rally the entire country.
Trump has said that he is there to represent all Americans: “This will prove to be a great time in the lives of ALL Americans. We will unite and we will win, win, win!” Macron’s slogan is “France must be an opportunity for all.” Here is where both will face the same problem. It is hard to reconcile the “break-from-the-past” route, eliminating the “institutional” power-brokers to create real change without pissing off a lot of people along the way. If Macron wants to succeed in renovating France (assuming he actually wins on May 7), he will first need to win legislative support, which will be anything other than obvious. Then, even if he were to gain legislative support, it is not to say that he will be able to push through an aggressive agenda. Just like Trump, whose majority in Congress is outright, Macron may find that the locally elected politicians will not agree (sufficiently) with his ongoing pragmatism.
THE QUANDARY OF BOLD ACTION & BROAD APPEAL
While Macron’s policies and “vision” are different from Trump’s, connected to his more socialist background and the French context, the lessons from Trump’s first 100 days suggest that Macron should quickly address how to get a strong and supportive team behind him. As his movement “En Marche” suggests, Macron will need to create significant and concrete momentum early on in his presidency in order to assuage the naysayers. Trump’s bluster and rapid-fire presidential executive orders fell foul of the system (including the judicial check). For Macron, he will need to find a way to get actions through and implemented quickly while there is positive shine on his star. In my opinion, having a solid and clear programme will be part of that. Knowing how to work with the establishment and the installed civil servants will be also part of that. Otherwise, unexpected events will inevitably occur that will blow the agenda off course, bringing disappointment if not dismay, and an almost predictable mid-term blowback in the next round of legislative elections.
The answer is blowing in the wind….
As obvious as Macron is the better choice for France (vs Le Pen), it is yet hard to see how he will be able to shepherd real change in France given his deep links to François Hollande. Will the winds blow favourably or will the storm clouds drown out the clamour for change?
There will be three key dates to watch out for:
- Rendez-vous on May 7 at 8pm CEST to see if Macron is crowned president
- The June 11-18 legislative elections will be pivotal. Will Macron get a decisive majority or have to live in cohabitation?
- How many new policies will be enacted by October 2017 (i.e. in the first 100 days with the legislative backing)?
If Macron wins on May 7, his real 5-year mission could be to prove that his system — and the ‘establishment’ — is worthy enough to avoid a Le Pen victory at the next turnstyle in 2022.