France: Contemplating a President Le Pen
The “tectonic plates of French politics” have shifted, said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. After Trump’s shock electoral triumph and this summer’s vote by Britain to leave the European Union, stunned politicians on the Left, Right, and Far Right are now muttering the same words: “Everything is possible.” One increasingly likely possibility is that Marine Le Pen, leader of the xenophobic, anti-immigrant National Front party, could be elected French president in 2017. The 48-year-old Le Pen certainly thinks history is on her side. “A new world is emerging,” she said after Trump’s victory. Polls suggest that the populist Le Pen would win at least 25 percent of votes in the first round of the election, in April, enough to qualify for the May runoff, said the Financial Times (U.K.). But forecasts show that voters, scared of radical change, would then rally behind her more conventional adversary— likely to be Alain Juppé or François Fillon, two former prime ministers who are battling for nomination by the center-right Republicans. “After the electoral upsets of the past year, no one is likely to take too much comfort from these predictions.”
It’s easy to draw parallels between Trump’s and Le Pen’s election strategies, said Jean-Claude Jaillette in Marianne (France). Both support protectionist trade policies, are hostile to immigration— especially from Muslim nations—and want a closer relationship with Russia. “Yet an essential difference separates the two.” Trump mobilized a once indifferent slice of the electorate by grabbing its attention with wild promises and offensive language. The polished Le Pen, though, wants to woo voters from France’s two main parties, the Republicans and the Socialists. To do that, she’s abandoned the National Front’s overtly anti-Semitic, racist rhetoric and tried to present the party as a force for moderate nationalism. That makeover has boosted support for the National Front—just not enough, said Dagens Nyheter (Sweden). The once fringe party took 28 percent of the vote in regional elections last year, up from 11 percent in 2010. Still, Le Pen needs more than 50 percent to win the presidency. That likely won’t happen, because her proposal to dump the euro and reintroduce the franc as the national currency “scares off business as well as pensioners and savers.”
But to defeat a populist, you need a fresh, popular candidate, said Jean-Dominique Merchet in L’Opinion (France). Hillary Clinton lost to Trump because she was “a woman of the past and a representative of the elites.” The men who would challenge Le Pen are similarly stale. Juppé, 71, “first joined the government 30 years ago”; Fillon, 62, is an establishment figure who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012. “In country after country, the people are voting against the system.” Will French voters fed up with a 10 percent unemployment rate, near zero percent economic growth, and the ongoing threat of jihadist violence really settle for the status quo?