“He succeeded in bringing together the popular classes and the patriotic bourgeoisie. This is what I dream of… for 20 years, ”Zemmour told LCI in one of dozens of recent TV interviews.
The veteran far-right political journalist and television expert has not declared his intention to run for president, but has dropped enough clues to raise hopes that he will.
Zemmour suggested similarities between the main concerns of the former US president and his own: immigration, deindustrialisation, as well as opposition to “political correctness”.
“It means the media, the judges, the cultural elite,” he said.
While the Americans’ road to power was one model he envisioned, that of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was another.
“He’s done pretty well,” the 63-year-old said with a smile of the former London mayor who exploited immigration fear and anti-EU sentiment among the working classes during the referendum campaign on Brexit in 2016.
Zemmour’s sudden emergence as a serious presidential candidate electrified the French political class and led to frequent debates about his similarity to Trump and other successful right-wing populists of recent years.
The title of Zemmour’s new book, “France Has Not Said Its Last Word,” vaguely echoes Trump’s ambitious slogan “Make American Great Again.”
As politicians, the two men present themselves as national saviors.
Zemmour admitted that even the cover of his latest book, which features him against the French flag, also borrowed patriotic iconography from Trump’s 2016 tome “Great Again”.
– ‘Cultivated character’ –
According to a theory circulating in France, Zemmour is similar to both Trump and Johnson in that he embodies an essential national characteristic that is part of his appeal to voters.
Trump is an almost cartoonish portrayal of an American businessman – brash, boastful, quick, and rich.
Johnson, a graduate of England’s top schools, cultivated an image of upper-class intelligence and eccentricity.
And Zemmour, a self-taught historian, spices up his writings and his interviews with sometimes obscure references to figures from the political past and the literary canon of France in the manner of a public intellectual.
“I believe in the comparison with Trump and also with Boris Johnson,” said Gérard Araud, French ambassador to Washington during Trump’s tenure.
“Basically, the Americans want a billionaire, the British want someone from Eton and Oxford, and the French want a cultured figure,” Araud told AFP.
Benjamin Haddad, a French analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, also sees parallels between Zemmour’s nascent campaign and that of Trump.
He summed it up on Twitter as “being voluntarily radical who gives an impression of authenticity, controlling the media space, and triggering controversies that force others to react”.
During a visit to an arms fair in Paris, Zemmour turned a sniper’s weapon on reporters, telling them with a smile to “Stand back, move”.
The video, which was quickly picked up by French cable news channels, recalled right-wing Americans’ love affair with guns as well as Trump’s relentless animosity towards the “fake news” media. , as he calls it.
– « Pas Trump » –
Polls have suggested that support for Zemmour has increased in recent weeks as attention grows over his potential offer.
He is expected to collect around 15% in the first round, and some polls have placed him in the second round against President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the president’s traditional far-right enemy, Marine Le Pen.
No poll, however, has shown him close to winning the presidency.
Despite the parallels with Trump, there are also clear differences.
Christopher Bickerton, senior lecturer in European politics at the University of Cambridge and author of a recent book on populism, said that “the parallels are good in theory but in practice you can see all the differences”.
“Trump captured Republicans and the Republican Party in a way that Zemmour did not and may never succeed in doing with the right of France,” he said.
He also says that populism is often “the politics of bad manners, of being outspoken, of saying what you think, of being anti-intellectual”.
“Zemmour is cultured, well read and bookish in a way that others are not,” he said.
The Parisian of Algerian Jewish origin has, however, been prosecuted on several occasions for hate speech, ranging from treating Muslim immigrants as “colonizers” to that of minor asylum seekers as “rapists and thieves”.
Unlike Trump, Zemmour’s ability to command a scene and ignite his followers in public is also untested, despite being an experienced debater thanks to his long career as a TV personality.
Last month, an editorial in the leftist newspaper Le Monde listed the differences between the two men under the blunt headline “Eric Zemmour is not Donald Trump.”
He recognized some similarities between them as politicians, but concluded that the French political system and electorate were far too different to make the comparison valid.
“These major differences make it difficult to apply the American prism without reservation to the campaign in France,” he concluded.