Éric Zemmour, Far-Right Pundit, Makes French Presidential Run Official

PARIS — Éric Zemmour, a polarizing far-right writer and television star, announced on Tuesday that he was running for French president in elections next year, ending months of speculation over a bid that upended the race before he had even made it official.

Mr. Zemmour, 63, is a longtime conservative journalist who rose to prominence over the past decade, using prime-time television and best-selling books to expound on his view that France was in steep decline because of Islam, immigration and leftist identity politics.

He has fashioned himself as a Donald J. Trump-style provocateur lobbing politically incorrect bombs at the French elite establishment — saying, for instance, that the law should require parents to give their children “traditional” French names — and rewriting some of the worst episodes from France’s past. He has been charged with inciting racial or religious hatred several times over his comments, and twice convicted and fined.

The announcement, after months of barely veiled hints that Mr. Zemmour intended to run, surprised no one. It also came after the yet-to-be-declared candidate had endured a dip in the polls and a series of setbacks in recent days — including a disastrous visit to Marseille, in southern France, that ended with him flipping off a protester — that have given ammunition to critics who say Mr. Zemmour is not fit to be president.

“One may have doubts as to his ability to represent our country and serve in its highest office,” Gabriel Attal, a French government spokesman, told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday, calling Mr. Zemmour a knockoff version of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Zemmour has already reshuffled the political calculus for several candidates in the presidential elections, which will be held in April next year.

Recent polls suggest that President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Rally party, are still expected to advance to the runoff of the elections, in a repeat of their 2017 duel.

Even so, Mr. Zemmour has drawn in some of Ms. Le Pen’s supporters with his hard-line stance on immigration and identity. He has also disrupted Les Républicains, France’s traditional center-right party, which is expected to pick its own candidate this week.

Mr. Zemmour was a journalist at the conservative daily Le Figaro for years, but he became a best-selling author in the 2010s with books that described a France in decline and beset by what he said was the threat of immigration and Islam.

His latest book, “France Has Not Said Its Last Word Yet,” which he released in September to mark his unofficial entry into the presidential race, has sold more than 250,000 copies.

But some of his books have contained incendiary statements about women and minorities, as well as historical inaccuracies in the course of efforts to clear France of wrongdoing in some of the worst episodes of its past, including in World War II and Algeria’s war for independence from France.

Mr. Zemmour’s 2014 best seller, “French Suicide,” sought to rebut the historical consensus that Vichy, France’s collaborationist government, was responsible for the notorious roundup of Jews during World War II.

Mr. Zemmour is the son of parents from Algeria, and he styles himself as a defender of France’s Christian civilization against the influence of Muslim immigrants. But he himself is Jewish, and his repeated attempts to rehabilitate the Vichy government, and its leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain, have split France’s Jewish community.

Mr. Zemmour has also excelled as a right-wing television pundit deploying virulent nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. In 2019, he joined CNews, a Fox-style news network, which provided a platform for him to express his ideas to hundreds of thousands of viewers during prime time.

Mr. Zemmour has experienced a rapid rise in the polls over the past few months, fueled by feverish media coverage of a tour for his latest book, but he has stumbled in recent days.

Several supporters, including a key French financier who had lent money to Mr. Zemmour, have distanced themselves, describing his campaign as amateurish. Recent campaign stops have also cast doubt on his ability to handle the challenges and pressures of the campaign trail.

He was widely criticized for making political statements to journalists in front of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris for the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks there, and in Marseille, he was heckled by protesters and was photographed flipping off an unknown woman after she made the same gesture toward him.

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