After Donald Trump’s shock victory in the United States, populists are on the march. Can Marine Le Pen replicate his success next year?
If 2016 was the year of triumph for the political outsider, the Front National’s Marine Le Pen must hope this carries through to next year. Currently . Many predict she will win the first round of the election, facing a fractured left and tired centre-right.
Indeed, President Hollande is currently polling in, with question marks over whether he even intends to seek another term in office having now been tarnished by personal scandal, terrorist attacks and economic stagnation. Now François Fillon has defeated Alain Juppé in the second round it is likely he will go on to win the presidency. One would expect those voters on the left to reluctantly vote for a centre-right candidate in the shape of Fillon to avoid a rather further right candidate in the shape of Le Pen.
In fact, this is not without precedent: in 2002 the Front National unexpectedly made it through to the final round of the presidential elections, only to have the overwhelming majority of the country unite against them, losing the final round in a landslide: 82 per cent to 18 per cent. Now clearly any such situation will not be so easy for the moderates this time around. France is reeling from crisis after crisis: a floundering economy and increasing unease around identity in general, and Islam in particular. Moreover, Marine Le Pen is a far more consummate politician than her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who led the Front National in 2002. She has gone to great lengths to try to sanitise her party’s image, so much so that she has expelled her own father over his comments that the Holocaust was just “a detail of history”.
Whilst there are numerous, not insignificant obstacles to a Le Pen presidency in 2017, so-called populist politicians have been underestimated time and time again. Countless articles dismissing Donald Trump were written over the course of the US presidential election campaign, with odds of up to 150 to one for a Trump victory upon his campaign being announced. Furthermore, whilst it would be unfair to draw too many correlations between Brexit, Trump’s success and a possible Le Pen presidency, one common feature is that of previously disenfranchised working class often in a way prior opinion polls fail to measure. Indeed, Trump’s protectionist message that sold so well in the “rust belt” states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, and ultimately won him the presidency is very similar to Le Pen’s economic nationalism: a cocktail of aggressive patriotism, economic interventionism, foreign isolationism and anti-immigrant feeling. Marine Le Pen has previously compared Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation of France, and was subsequently acquitted of “inciting hatred”. This anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic part of the FN’s message cannot be overstated, in comparison to a message based more around economics in the “rust belt” states.
Le Pen and the Front National are certainly underdogs to win in next year’s election – though not so much of an underdog as Donald Trump, or the Vote Leave campaign. Nevertheless, even if she fails this time both the Républicains and the Parti Socialiste should tread cautiously. To keep out the Front National, the centre must hold every time, whereas Le Pen only needs to win once to oversee the radical policy shifts she desires. Whilst 2017 beckons, this will not be the last opportunity for the radical right in France. If another contender triumphs but fails to address the underlying issues in France – terrorism, immigration, economic growth and rising discontent about the Euro and European Union membership – the Front National’s chances will only grow stronger still.
The day after Donald Trump’s shock victory in the United States, Marine Le Pen’s top strategist, Florian Philippot, tweeted that “their world is collapsing. Ours is being built”. Indeed, Mrs Le Pen also prophesised that same day “today the United States. Tomorrow, France”. Her opponents should tread carefully- lest they want this prophecy to come true.