The fallout of Donald Trump’s shock election victory dominated the final French centre-right primary debate Thursday night as contenders for the presidential candidacy clashed on a range of foreign policy issues.
Seven candidates – six men and one woman – faced off in a Paris studio in a decisive debate just days before French voters go to the polls Sunday in the first round of the Les Républicains party primaries, a historic first in French politics.
Thursday night’s debate kicked off with the contenders asked to detail their foreign policy platforms, particularly their policies on US-French relations following Trump’s victory in the November 8 US presidential election.
“Mr. Trump was elected by Americans, it’s the choice of the American people. The choice here concerns the future president of France,” protested former French prime minister François Fillon.
But the American president-elect continued to overshadow the debate as the French presidential hopefuls were pressed to discuss the impact of Trump’s victory on foreign policy issues ranging from the Syrian crisis, France’s relations with Russia and the future of the NATO military alliance.
Frontrunner Alain Juppé – a veteran politician who has served as French prime minister and foreign minister in the past – broke down “the shock” of the Trump win on three policy issues: trade, defence and sustainable development.
On trade, Juppé noted that Trump in the White House could see “protectionism in the United States, which would be a regression for Europe”. On defence, Juppé noted that “Mr. Trump says Europeans have to pay more. But we have to know who will pay what”. Finally, on sustainable development, the 71-year-old centrist politician said: “There is no question for us to stop fighting against global warming.”
Nevertheless, Juppé stressed that “the people of America have spoken and we have to work with the new US president”.
It was left to the sole female contender for the candidacy, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, to condemn Trump’s controversial positions on the campaign trail. “What is detestable about Trump’s discourse, the racism, sexism and homophobia, remains deplorable and is not any more acceptable since he was elected,” stressed Kosciusko-Morizet. “But we have to work with him. The question is how, in this new context, can we defend French interests in the best way.”
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy predicted an upsurge in “aggressiveness” in the way Americans defend their “interests”, and advocated a “buy European act” that would “mark the return of France and Europe on the international scene”.
Choosing between ‘suitcase and coffin’ in Syria
The candidates also discussed the Syrian crisis, with Sarkozy affirming that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “does not represent, in my opinion or in the opinion of humanists, the future of Syria”.
But Fillon was more conciliatory towards the Syrian regime, noting that Assad was still in power because he still had support in some quarters, especially among the Alawite and Christian minorities. “Why do the Christians of Syria support Assad?” asked Fillon before answering: “Because they prefer him to Sunni extremism.”
“In case of a fall of the regime,” he added, “the Christians of the Middle East will have the choice between the suitcase or the coffin.”
The stakes of the final centre-right debate were high, with the winner of the primary set to be the favourite to become French president next year, given the weakness of the ruling Socialists and the record unpopularity of current President François Hollande, who has yet to declare whether he will run for a second term in office.
Cardinal-elect Joseph Tobin’s archdiocese settled more than 52 refugees last year. Photograph: Kevin R. Wexler/AP
Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
An American archbishop who is famous for taking a stand against incoming Republican vice-president Mike Pence said the Roman Catholic church would be challenged over the next four years to fulfill its priority of helping refugees and migrants resettle in America.
But Joseph Tobin, who will formally be promoted to the position of cardinal on Saturday, told the Associated Press in an interview that he was hopeful that the church “will meet the challenge”.
The remarks by a man who is very much aligned with Pope Francis’s own priorities – from welcoming immigrants to environmentalism – suggests that the church could soon take on a much more active and vocal role in opposition to anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies adopted by the incoming Republican administration.
In an interview with 60 Minutes after his election, Donald Trump said he was prepared to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented migrants who are involved in gangs, drugs or other crimes, whether they have been convicted or not. He also did not rule out deporting millions more once the US has “secured” its border with Mexico and built a wall along its southern border.
Francis’s unexpected decision to elevate Tobin – who was serving as archbishop in Indianapolis but is now being moved to Newark, New Jersey – came one year after the Michigan native challenged a decision by Indiana’s governor, Pence, to block Syrian refugees who were resettling in the state.
Tobin took on the now vice president-elect – a Catholic who converted to extremely conservative evangelical protestantism in his early 20s – and prevailed. Tobin’s archdiocese settled more than 52 refugees last year. Tobin told the Associated Press that the church had been involved in such work for more than a century but that continuing it over the next four years would be “challenging”.
He added: “The ethical reflection of a nation isn’t reduced to the government … I have a lot of faith in the American people.”
Trump’s election can be seen as a repudiation of Pope Francis’s agenda and vision for the world, from his call for protection of the environment, to greater acceptance and integration of migrants and refugees. Despite that fact, white Catholic voters supported Trump, even though Francis once said the incoming president’s views about building a wall on the Mexican border were “not Christian”.
Women in the #GOPHandsOffMe movement protests in New York City just before election day. Photograph: Erik M/Pacific/Barcroft Images
Women and advocacy groups are preparing for the most serious assault on reproductive rights in decades after Hillary Clinton, the first female nominee of a major party, lost the presidential election to Donald Trump.
Trump’s election, in tandem with an undivided Congress under Republican control, 33 GOP governors and an open seat on the supreme court with the possibility of more appointments, has cast serious uncertainty about the future of abortion in the US, advocates say.
“It’s really bad – bad as we’ve ever seen it,” said Donna Crane, the vice-president of policy for Naral, a pro-choice advocacy group.
Like many of his policy views, Trump’s stance on women’s reproductive rights has shifted throughout his campaign, including three contradictory positions on abortion in three hours. In an interview on Sunday with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Trump reiterated his vow to appoint conservative and pro-life supreme court justices, which could gradually restrict abortion access and even lead to overturning Roe v Wade, the 43-year-old ruling that legalized abortion in the US. (Trump, who appears to have an incongruous understanding of how the supreme court operates, had previously suggested this would happen “automatically”.)
The prospect of overturning Roe v Wade has set off alarm bells among women’s health advocates, who are already fighting to hold the line against an avalanche of regulations meant to restrict access to abortions at the state level. But experts saying dismantling the precedent would be much more difficult than Trump seems to think it will be.
“Roe has withstood the test of time, over 40 years,” said Kelly Baden, interim senior director of US policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, noting that US supreme court justices take precedents seriously even when they disagree with them. “It has survived anti-choice administrations, including ones that have pushed to appoint anti-choice justices to the supreme court.”
He has no idea what that actually means, as far as how real people live their lives
Amy Hagstrom Miller, Whole Women’s Health