Marine Le Pen can’t possibly win. French friends on Twitter told me this weeks ago. I asked one souveraniste activist the other night; he said she will do well to break 40 percent, and might be held to 35 percent. The entire French political class is aligned against her. And to many people who might be broadly sympathetic, leaving the euro seems like a leap into the dark. A poll running across my TV screen now says that 75 percent of French business execs think leaving the euro would have a bad impact on their firms.
So, I concede, 11 days before the vote, a Le Pen win would be a huge upset, much more so than Trump or Brexit.
She is a really skilled candidate, a wonderful one. Last night she was on TF1, not the main news channel but the somewhat lower-brow government-funded one. The most popular channel in France. She was interviewed for an hour and 15 minutes. She was tag-teamed by two journalists, and then a third was brought in to take her on, from London yet. The grilling was all tasteful—the journalists seemed clearly to enjoy the role they were playing, that of picking apart MLP’s positions, and enjoyed as well her skill in parrying their efforts to trip her up. I think if you watch the video you can get a sense of her appeal without speaking a word of French.
She began skillfully, but stressing that she is not the Front National candidate. Yesterday she resigned from her FN presidency. She is the candidate supported by the FN, of course, but she was able to remind people that de Gaulle intended the presidency to be an office above the parties, to transcend the parties. It was a skillful move, associating herself slightly with de Gaulle (who was himself no big fan of Anglo-Saxon market economies, nor of mass immigration) and perhaps distancing her from the FN’s broadly unfavorable reputation.
What would a casual viewer make of her? That she opposes le mondialisation sauvage, the key phrase of her campaign. She opposes the view she ascribes (quite justly) to the former banker Macron, that the “market” should be the “big boss” of everything—above everything else, nation, family, identity. That France should be transformed into a giant public marketplace. She talks about Europe with some tact—“I feel myself European”—but proposes a new form of “freely executed” bilateral negotiations between nations, rather than rule from Brussels. But, as she makes clear later, she is no fan of the deference all French politicians pay to “Madame Merkel,” the way they all seek her benediction. She is of course fine with Madame Merkel when the latter defends the interests of Germany, which she should. Less so when she invites in a million and a half immigrants from who knows where, and no one knows where they are.
Quite obviously she doesn’t have the silver-bullet answer to the dilemmas of the French economy; her role in the campaign is more to point out that Macron does not either. But in terms of being a person who might, in the pollsters phrase, “understand people like me” she is miles ahead of Macron.
She gets in some jabs at Macron—who was quoted saying some nice things about an Islamist activist who plays some role in his campaign, and saying there is no such thing as “French culture.”
She has really tried to get around to the left of Macron on every issue except immigration, where she of course well to the right. It is a fundamental choice France faces—that of course is the one thing everyone seems to agree upon.
A flier stresses the common points, mostly concerning worker’s rights, between Mélenchon’s program and hers. FN spokesmen now seldom miss an opportunity to refer to Macron as spokesman for a France soumise (submissive France), on obvious effort to reach out to Mélenchon’s electoral movement, which calls itself La France Insoumise. On TV, she wonders how Mélenchon could possibly vote for Macron, who stands exactly the opposite of him on every issue in the campaign.
This morning’s news showed new polls stating that roughly 60 percent of voters thought Le Pen had made a “good start” on her campaign, while less than half thought Macron had begun well. (The dinner at “La Rotonde” is still being talked about.) Meanwhile the morning news showed workers, threatened with layoffs at a Whirlpool factory, preparing to greet Macron, who was coming to their plant to talk about his plans for “retraining.” It was an image that has been seen often in France the past 40 years, middle-aged workers threatened with job loss, men and women, standing outside of factory gates, angry banners, bonfires in garbage cans. No one seriously thinks Marine Le Pen has an answer to this problem, but at least she recognizes it is a problem, something which the banker Macron surely does not.
I know, I know, she can’t win. Everyone opposes her. But if you just came in from a foreign country and looked at the news, you might think she could.