Armed with a cap, a backpack and good shoes, he walked the long roads to Compostela during the summer. Laurent Wauquiez shared on instagram some photos of its stages, from the “Romanesque masterpiece” of Conques to “Saint-Côme-d’Olt and its twisted bell tower”, passing by the “superb fresco of Saint-Etienne stoned” of the cathedral of Cahors . Far, very far from the political tumult, the boss Les Républicains of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region has staged himself as a simple pilgrim. A way of illustrating his media withdrawal which should lead him, at least he hopes, to the Elysée.
This Sunday, the very discreet presidential candidate for 2027 is making his political comeback with his traditional ascent of Mont Mézenc. “A very Puy-en-Velay return to school”, blows support. Understand: in a restricted format, during which he should still not speak.
In retreat, not in retreat
After the stinging defeat of his party in the 2019 Europeans, when he was the boss, Laurent Wauquiez had to let go of his throne. Alas, the deposed king lurked in the shadow of his regional lands, restricting himself to a media diet. “Yes, I have scars. I learned what the loneliness of failure is… I learned the importance of listening and humility. It’s fundamental when you want to take care of the destiny of a country”, he told the Point, last May, in one of his rare interviews. Re-elected without problem at the head of the regional council of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in 2021, Laurent Wauquiez preferred to step over the presidential election the following year, without ever denying his national ambitions. “He was aware that he did not have all the cards in hand. A few years earlier, he might have gone there saber clear. This shows that he has acquired maturity and political wisdom, ”said Eric Pauget, LR deputy for the Alpes-Maritimes and former supporter of Valérie Pécresse.
“Withdrawn, but not withdrawn”, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon would say. Because the enarque never stopped doing politics. In his region first, which he imagines as a laboratory and a political springboard. But his distancing from the media does not spare him local controversies, as evidenced by his expensive society dinner at the expense of the taxpayer, now in the sights of the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, or the abolition of cultural subsidies denounced by his opponents. The 48-year-old also keeps a strong bond with the elected Les Républicains to maintain his influence within the movement. Discreet support for Eric Ciotti for the LR presidency, the latter spent the entire internal campaign explaining that he would put the ex-choice of activists into orbit for 2027, even if it meant changing the statutes to get rid of the primary. “The day Wauquiez goes into battle, all you have to do is press a button,” hopes his long-time supporter Arnaud Julien, departmental secretary of Hérault and member of the political bureau.
“The arrival of Darmanin disturbs the game on the right”
Still, the attitude of Laurent Wauquiez is beginning to raise some doubts within the right. “Politics is a living body and nature abhors a vacuum. I don’t know if it’s good to be totally absent, especially since the arrival of Darmanin is disturbing the game in the right-wing electorate, ”worries Eric Pauget. “I understand the strategy of withdrawal, because the French have no idea of 2027. But be careful not to completely leave the radar and let others take their place,” he adds. Pierre-Henri Dumont, MP and former supporter of Xavier Bertrand, goes further:
“The strategy of scarcity in politics is a mistake, unless your name is Macron, Mélenchon or Le Pen, that you are perfectly identified by the French and untouchable in his camp. The right already has very little media space, so on the contrary we have to fire all the woods, saturate the media space to force others to position themselves on our themes, as Sarkozy did at the time”.
The former head of state does not spare his former Minister of Higher Education, accusing him of playing “little arm” in an interview at Parisian end of August. “If you want to become President of the Republic, you have to take risks. One thing is certain, if you calculate small, you will fail”. A feeling shared by many right-wing elected officials, up to Eric Ciotti, during the painful episode of the pension reform. Laurent Wauquiez only provided cautious support for the government text validated by “his friend”, invoking the “principle of responsibility” lip service, at the end of January during his vows. It didn’t really help hold the troops together during the height of the storm. “In March-April, when it was the most complicated for Eric Ciotti, and while all the tenors on the right were speaking on the subject, we did not hear him,” regrets Eric Pauget.
“It will be me or Marine Le Pen”
The interested party swept aside the criticisms, once again defending his desire to stay away from the “drum of the washing machine of the news”, essential to avoid “politician myopia, where no one produces more vision”. Laurent Wauquiez prefers to feed on meetings in the field with magistrates, firefighters, police officers or caregivers in an nursing home, sometimes staying long hours, and always without a camera. In private, he repeats at will: “In 2027, it will be me or Marine Le Pen”, convinced that the ballot will be played on this “France of the forgotten”. “There is no longer any need to saturate the media space, because today, voters have become zappers. He no longer wants to wear himself out in the mornings with little phrases. The day he emerges from silence, his word will be strong, ”hopes Arnaud Julien. Even though in the polls the man on the right lags far behind his opponent from the National Rally.
“He is consistent in his approach”, recognizes Othman Nasrou, vice-president of the Île-de-France region, close to Bruno Retailleau. “Given the state of cacophony in the country, in 2027 we will need a well-prepared candidate, with a lofty view, who has not exhausted himself from controversy to controversy”. The next step towards the Elysée is scheduled for September 30 and October 1 at the Valence campus (Drôme). For the return of young LRs, the mute Wauquiez could well speak.