Today is a holiday in France, the day after Easter being taken as a day off by nearly everyone in the post-Christian nation. I plan to go to two rallies, Macron’s in the afternoon, Le Pen’s in the evening, and will try to get a sense of the crowds and enthusiasm. As I’ve written before, the top four candidates are grouped around 20 percent, and anything can happen. There is slight sense in the media that Le Pen’s campaign is a little bit flagging, as if she’s perhaps uncertain how much to stress her newer themes, such as the need to withdraw from the EU and the euro. Is this a priority, or an option? Does this frighten more of her potential voters than it attracts?
My guess is that Le Pen’s comment last week that “France” was not responsible for the round up of Jews at the Vel d’Hiv in 1942, but rather it was a crime committed by those Frenchmen in power at the time, was not a gaffe but intentional. Her position was one long maintained by both de Gaulle and Mitterrand (for whom Vichy was not “France”), though it had been contradicted by Jacques Chirac in a famous 1995 address, where he took responsibility on behalf of the French state for the terrible act. So, by taking a position supported by both de Gaulle and Mitterrand, she places herself in opposition to the increasingly dominant bien pensant concept of the eternally guilty France that can redeem itself only by drowning itself in a sea of antiracism and multiculturalism.
On the other hand, her statement led to days of tabloid headlines associating Le Pen’s name with World War II crimes, which is of course not great for a candidate who has tried so hard to distance her party from the Vichy-apologist milieus that were present at its founding. It’s as if she got herself caught up in a French version of the McCarthy era joke:
Witness: “But I’m an anti-communist.”
Interrogator: “I don’t care what kind of communist you are.”
Then there are the other things. I have a vague sense that the public disgust with Fillon’s financial scandals, which smashed his polls numbers two months ago, has peaked. Le Pen is harassed by questions about a lesser scandal, the putting of FN party operatives on the European Parliament payroll. That’s an annoyance and a steady minor drip, but it gets in the way of her getting her message out.
In any case, a reader asked me a few days ago to make predictions. So I predict the most boring of possible results, Macron and Fillon making it to the second round, with Le Pen just behind and Mélenchon pulling about 18 percent to finish in fourth place. But I’ll have a better sense after the two rallies today. And of course anything else can shift things. Poll numbers frequently change by as much as six points in the last week of the campaign.