The growing sense that Copé has manipulated the UMP system he's been overseeing since 2010 explains the collapse in his polling numbers, from 48 percent approval in late October, to just 26 percent in late November. Fillon's national support also declined by 11 percent during that same period, but 52 percent of the French still have a positive opinion of him.
The dispute has even dragged Sarkozy back into the fray. The former president, who has been doing his best to keep a low profile as he replenishes his coffers on the international lecture circuit and battles a serious ongoing investigation into the allegedly illegal financing of his 2007 presidential campaign, intervened to calm the roiled passions around his succession. Sarkozy suggested, through emissaries, that new elections be held because no candidate resulting from this shambles could credibly lead the party. A web petition for a re-vote created by the spokeswoman for Sarkozy's last presidential campaign, quickly garnered about 22,000 signatures, although it carries only symbolic weight.
While Sarkozy did manage to convince the two increasingly fierce political enemies to meet face to face on November 27, his efforts have already gotten bogged down over the question of whether party activists need to vote on whether to hold a new vote. (Copé insists that the party has no statutes to make that happen, meaning that for the foreseeable future, he must remain as the de facto leader of the party.)
Even under the best of circumstances, a new electoral process -- if it happens at all -- would take several months to organize. If they hold two separate votes and go through the process of changing the UMP's internal statutes (Fillon wants the votes to be run by an entirely independent authority), the right-of-center political movement could be fiddling with itself in search of a leader deep into next year.
Needless to say, in the era of social networking, the saga has set Twitter alight. More tweets mentioned Copé and Fillon -- some 350,000 -- in the two days after the party vote than mentioned Sarkozy and Hollande in the entire week before the presidential election six months ago, according to the French news agency, AFP. A message by the respected, iconoclastic co-founder of the political magazine Marianne, Nicolas Domenach, was retweeted more than 200 times. It reads: "Copé-Fillon: it will all depend on the Florida vote!" Another popular message, written by the anonymous comic tweeter @nain_portekoi (which translates as "whatEVER!") asked: "You know how to recognize a good UMP president? No? Neither does the UMP." Meanwhile, @cujus_regio snarked that "It is easier to negotiate a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel than between Copé and Fillon." Another message, by @petulamoore, suggested that the results were "Fillon 55% of the vote, Copé 56%." And yet another popular tweet assessed the situation thusly: "In fact, the Mayans were slightly mistaken, 2012 is just the end of the UMP."
The most salient comment, though, may have come from the Socialist-friendly handle @mitterrandfr (we can assume it's an alias and not the late former president himself): "Fillon and Copé have been more effective in destroying the UMP in three days than the Socialist party in 10 years."
And for that, Hollande, badly in need of a break these days, can't thank them enough.