French right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said Saturday that anyone who wants to leave her National Rally (RN) party should "do it now," Reuters reports. The announcement comes in the wake of several defections to rival candidate Éric Zemmour, whose overtly reactionary campaign stands in contrast to the traditionally far-right RN's attempts to broaden its appeal by taking more moderate stances.
"Those who want to leave can do so but they need to do it now," Le Pen said at a meeting of right-wing European leaders in Madrid. "Having people here while their heart or their mind is elsewhere is unbearable. It is a total lack of dignity and respect towards all of our supporters."
On Friday, Le Pen reacted to the news that her niece, Marion Maréchal, had declined to back her presidential campaign and had floated the possibility of "returning to politics" to support Zemmour, The Guardian reported. "I have a special relationship with Marion because I raised her with my sister during the first few years of her life, so obviously it's brutal and violent. ... It's difficult for me," Le Pen said.
Le Pen reached the second round of the French presidential election in 2017 but lost badly to now-President Emmanuel Macron, who received 66 percent of the vote.
If Zemmour reaches the 2022 runoff, several polls conducted in December suggest he would lose to Macron by a similar margin. Le Pen is projected to fare slightly better against the incumbent. Most first-round polls currently have Zemmour in fourth place, with Macron leading comfortably and Le Pen jockeying with center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse for second place.