Elected, Sarkozy showed himself to be a canny political card player. There was, for example, “l'ouverture” – Sarkozy's carefully-targeted effort to dismantle the Socialist Party by recruiting some of its brightest lights into Sarkozy's new right-wing government as ministers and senior officials. This cut the Socialist Party's leadership off at the knees, demoralized its membership, appropriated some of its best talent, reframed Sarkozy as a big-tent president who would govern for all the French – and left him perfectly free to pursue his policies exactly as he intended to do, validated by some of his most dangerous opponents. Demonstrating, as has occurred many times in politics in many countries before and since (in Britain, in the fate of the Liberal Democrats, for example), that weaving opponents into your team is an excellent way to defeat them.
However, the collapse of the world financial bubble and then the socialization of its losses (one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in world history) removed the raison d’être of the Sarkozy presidency. In this, it can be said that France dodged a bullet. The country was lucky that it elected Sarkozy relatively late in the era of the madness of the rentiers. He didn't have time to turn France into, say, Ireland or Iceland. And so France was spared the worst. Sarkozy then attempted to reframe himself as the opposite of himself, but it never rang true. He was never a credible “social market” builder.
Despite his best efforts, Sarkozy could not wheel France around into a mini-America fast enough before the people realized what happened. Vive la France et les Francaise!
Sarkozy leaves behind a mess of xeonophobia, of angry workers and young people, and at best a muddled political party with a flimsy and loosely-knit message to oppose the Socialists.
This sentiment has repercussions far beyond the French borders, of course. As a member of the EU and with Sarkozy one of the most influential figures in that Union, the anti-austerity forces can now point to France as a main reason why attempts to shore up flagging economies by imposing "order and discipline" (read that as tax cuts for the rich and services cuts for everyone else).
Indeed, the concurrent elections in Greece, which brutalized the political centre, reinforce this perception.
Que la France va, ainsi va l'Europe. And as Europe goes, so goes America. Think about it.
After all, it was the French Revolution that truly brought power to the people (the American Revolution brought power to the people who were wealthy white land owners, but that changed after the French Revolution filtered through Europe) which toppled dynasties and empires up and down the continent (eventually) and it was Europe's reaction to the Great Depression that eventually saw America get Social Security and other social programs designed specifically for the working classes.