At Harvard last February, I enjoyed the privilege of attending a private dinner for Ségolène Royal. After dinner, she took questions. I remarked that her idea of building a mass party with a national primary to choose the candidate for 2012 well in advance of the election was such an attractive notion that she had quite a few rivals for the job of making it happen. How did she intend to get rid of them? Her answer was affable enough but dodged the question, as I should have known it would.
The exchange returns to me now, as I contemplate her tactical position at the moment. It would be a foolhardy person indeed who attached a clear meaning to the recent vote of party militants. Royal is on top, but just barely. The old leadership--not just Hollande but with him Delanoë and the Jospinistes in his camp--has been pretty clearly repudiated yet remains strong enough to cause trouble. Other wounded predators lurk in the bush: Aubry, Fabius, Hamon. And Royal probably doesn't want the leadership position for herself: she has the national profile without it and wants simply to ensure that the apparatus isn't used against her. She is therefore expected by many to push Vincent Peillon for the job, and Hollande, anticipating this, has called on her to name her choice publicly.
There presumably wouldn't be much risk in this course. Peillon is an intellectual, not likely to outshine the putative candidate or presume to usurp the role for himself. As far as I know, he's acceptable to all factions. I don't know where he stands on the question of a national primary to choose the candidate, which will I imagine be a key issue in interfactional negotiations. The consensus is that Royal would have an advantage in an open primary. She is known to favor this method of choosing a candidate, although details of eligibility remain to be worked out. Of course there's nothing to say that someone else couldn't succeed in this format as well. Many things can happen between now and 2011. But my guess is that Peillon will become the leader, that there will be an open primary, and that the anti-Royal Socialists, who together account for 70% of those who voted and who have failed in their effort to use the party machinery to stop her, will now turn their attention to undermining her standing with the broader public. They will "go negative," in American parlance, and we will learn, perhaps, why so many Socialists seem to be unhinged by the thought of a Présidente Ségo.