It’s being called “the First Gaffe” and “Tweet-gate.”
Trierweiler, the first unmarried French first lady and sometimes called the "first girlfriend," made headlines last week by saying she would remain a journalist for Paris Match, comparing her role to that of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Now Trierweiler is back on Page 1 after supporting Ms. Royal’s opponent in June 17 parliamentary elections, even though Mr. Hollande and most of the big Socialist Party guns are going all out to support Royal. Trierweiler is causing a small storm both by backing Royal's opponent and for playing a de facto role in French politics as an unelected public figure.
Trierweiler’s Tweet-heard-around-Paris read: “Good luck to Olivier Falorni who is a worthy candidate…For years he has been fighting with selfless commitment for the people of La Rochelle.” It was the No. 1 social media trend on the day.
“We thought politics would be boring with a normal presidency,” says the French editor of Elle, Valerie Toranian, alluding to Hollande’s characterization of himself as “Monsieur Normal.” “But this is fun.”
Royal, mother of Hollande’s children and the 2007 French presidential candidate (before Hollande left her for Trierweiler), is in the political fight of her life. She wants to be the speaker of the French lower house, but for unknown reasons, Royal decided to leave a safe seat that she had held for 14 years and carpetbag into the La Rochelle district.
The local Socialist candidate, Olivier Falorni, is much-loved and respected in the district and has refused to follow party orders and step aside. He is running anyway as a dissident independent. In Round 1 of elections on June 10, Mr. Falorni scored 29 percent to Royal’s 32 percent. The Socialist party fears that French right voters will now switch to Falorni, possibly leaving Royal in political purgatory.
The party's all-out campaign to save her has been comically referred to as “Saving Private Royal.”
A common phrase in Paris, “mélange des genres,” signifies a mixture of public and private life in French politics. Notionally, the French would like to keep the two separate, but they aren’t always able to do so.
Trierweiler and Royal are known to be antipathetic. During the campaign, Trierweiler sent messages to journalists at Paris Match who didn’t use the phrase “ex-partner” to describe Royal’s relations with Hollande.
In confirming to Le Monde yesterday that the Trierweiler Tweet was not a hoax, one Elysees Palace advisor said, “I am completely stunned. I expected a governmental crisis, but not a conjugal crisis.”
“It’s a very French circumstance,” says Peter Gumbel at Sciences Po in Paris, “The French want private and public affairs to be regarded as separate issues. Look at how DSK [former IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn] first treated the sex scandals last year. But this proves difficult. Recent French presidents like [Nicolas] Sarkozy have had incredibly complicated private lives.”
Mr. Sarkozy was divorced and remarried while in office and his private affairs constantly spilled into the public realm in a way the French public was not used to. It ended up being a detriment to Sarkozy politically.
Add to this a proclivity of relationships and marriages between journalists and politicians – three Socialist ministers are married to members of the Fourth Estate – and Paris becomes a petri dish teeming with gossip and innuendo.
French media has gone into overdrive dissecting and deconstructing the meaning of the Tweet, asking if Trierweiler’s shot at Royal will have negative political consequences for Hollande and whether it is a case of female jealousy (Trierweiler gamely denied this yesterday) or an indirect way for Hollande to support Falorni, an old friend and ally who supported him during a period of political isolation a few years ago.
The format of a Tweet is being discussed as well, since it appears to allow Trierweiler to express her direct views without having to give an official interview as first lady or unofficially "leak" her views to the press in a way that would make it appear as merely rumor.