Le Pen Will Get Her Chance
No surprises, the polls were correct. Macron did a little better than expected; Marine Le Pen ended up in second place, a solid but not impressive two points ahead of Fillon and Mélenchon. There isn’t much question about the outcome in two weeks: Macron will win, fairly handily. The issue is whether Marine Le Pen will shatter this idea that there should be some sort of broad “Front Republican” against her, of the sort that formed against her father in 2002. Jean Marie Le Pen had surprised everyone by getting into the second round against veteran center-right politician Jacques Chirac, and Chirac smashed him, holding him to less than 19 percent of the vote.
That won’t happen again. The entire establishment—most politicians, all the big media—will unite against Le Pen, but there are quite a few people who believe her direction for France is right, or more precisely that the Macronist direction is wrong, and she will get their votes. Closer to 40 percent than 20 percent. Perhaps more. She will probably establish the Front National as real force in French politics, not a right-wing protest party led by a charismatic family. She ought to make a lot of progress in two weeks.
I spent the first part of the evening at a Paris forum in the hip, boboish République quarter, where philosopher Michel Onfray discussed the election returns. Onfray is an atheist and has sometimes been labeled an anarchist, but he writes big bestselling books on large subjects, and with his emphasis on decentralization and opposition to Brussels he might be a bit of a crunchy con. He arrived on stage in jeans and an open black shirt. The audience is like anything you would find at a comparable event on Manhattan’s Upper West Side: elderly, somewhat professorial, definitely leaning left—I doubt there were any Le Pen voters there. Onfray announced he didn’t vote, hadn’t voted since 2005, when France held a referendum on the European Constitution and voted “No” by a decisive margin and the vote had precisely zero impact in slowing the advance of the European project. He held the stage for quite a while, basically deflating the idea that there was any pressing need to vote against Marine Le Pen. He obviously signaled some distaste for her (I couldn’t really tell if it was genuine, or a requirement of his position as a bestselling, non-right-wing author) but spent more time mocking Macron, the non-democratic system, French elites, the continuation of the Hollande regime through Macron, the left’s refusal to ever say the word “Islamic” when it discusses terrorism. From the questions and audience reaction the crowd seemed split—half of them probably believe Le Pen and her ilk are dangerous fascists who must be stamped out forever; the other half at least enjoyed his expressions of scorn for Macron and the French establishment political class.
Driving home in a cab, I heard Le Pen’s speech on the radio. A victory speech of sorts, though her first-round vote score wasn’t what she might have hoped for two months ago. She was genuinely powerful, calling for a real debate on the subject of French patriotism versus “savage globalization.” And for a genuine “alternance,” a genuine debate between competing political ideologies. She probably doesn’t have enough time or firepower to upend the entire French political establishment on these issues, but she ought to be able to do some real damage to the globalist consensus.
The election result is obviously a huge blow to the two biggest parties in France, the socialists (whose candidate Benoît Hamon came in far behind the patriotic far leftist Jean Luc Mélenchon) and the recently renamed “The Republicans” (the center-right party which once could plausibly claim a connection to Gaullism). Republican leader François Fillon wasted no time in telling voters he would vote Macron in the final tour. But many of his voters will not follow him.
Macron has tons of elite support, but hasn’t yet built a party. He will, and it will be free market, globalist, left-wing on social issues. The “bobo” party, the Tony Blair party, the Mark Zuckerberg party. Part of the old left truly and deeply hates all of this, far more than they ever did the Gaullists or Chiraquians. They won’t vote for Le Pen, but they won’t get caught up in an anti-Le Pen crusade.
Macron just finished speaking. One of his defining characteristics is that he never says much of anything. His most memorable assertions are those he’s had to retreat from: the colonization of Algeria was a “crime against humanity” (a phrase associated with Nazism and little else); there is no such thing as French culture. I’m pretty sure he will quite quickly evolve into an inept and unloved president; Hollande (who always seemed kind of dignified to me, though the French stopped listening to him a while ago) will seem impressive by comparison.
In any case, the next few days will be caught up in maneuvering over whether or not Macron can recreate the political consensus of 2002: that Le Pen and her party are beyond the pale. For Le Pen’s part, it’s whether she can overcome a hostile bipartisan establishment to make a powerful case for a resurgence of the French nation, distanced from Brussels and freed from the unrelenting flow of new immigration. It will particularly interesting to see the many substantial figures in French life—authors, retired politicians—who partially or largely agree with her on the issues decide to make French voters aware of that fact.
The first poll just shown on TV shows Macron beating Le Pen 62–38. I’m pretty sure she’ll do better than that.