François Hollande did not thank his opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, during his acceptance speech Sunday night, after defeating the incumbent with 51.6% of the vote in the French presidential runoff. But he should have, as he ran an anti-Sarkozy campaign, promising to behave like a “normal president” in contrast to the impulsive, unpredictable and sometimes ostentatious Sarkozy. And it worked: Fifty-five percent of the voters who cast a ballot for him did it to defeat Sarkozy rather than to elect Hollande.
This victory comes after an odd campaign on both sides. Sarkozy started off courting the center by emphasizing his record of reforms and his role in solving the eurozone crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But in March, he decided to take a page from his own 2007 campaign and raid the extreme-right electorate of Marine Le Pen instead. He emphasized themes like immigration, Islam and the necessity for a more protective, even protectionist, Europe. This time, however, the strategy backfired. Le Pen got a historic score in the first round, while Sarkozy sowed confusion in his own camp — and lost.
Hollande, betting on the anti-Sarkozy mood, refrained from making big promises, and even his signature reforms had a lot of fine print. For example, he announced that he would recruit 60,000 more teachers — but by shifting existing civil service jobs from other ministries to education. He promised to roll back Sarkozy’s pension reform — but for only a tiny fraction of workers. He pledged to renegotiate the European Fiscal Compact Treaty that Sarkozy negotiated with Merkel — but only to add a growth stimulus, not to alter the new disciplines it imposes.