Marine Le Pen Is not Donald Trump in a Dress

 

The race for President of France continues to be fascinating. The early leader and (surprise) winner of the center-right primary, the socially conservative, entitlements reforming, state shrinking, tough-love Francois Fillon is tanking in the polls over a scandal involving his employing his wife at government expense (“Penelopegate”). The largely unknown, and fairly cooky, Benoit Hamon was the (surprise) winner of the Socialist Party primary, which may well lead to the final death of that rather strange animal. The current darling of the (center) left is Emmanuel Macron, who is a sort of Third Way (Blair? Clinton?) figure operating outside the normal (such as it is) political channels.

You will recall that the French Presidential election operates in two rounds. The first round features everyone. The second round features the top two from the first round. It is a good bet that Marine Le Pen will be one of those top two, thus the action is to see who will oppose her in the second round. And win. Although voters on the right are slightly less likely to support a left-wing candidate against a National Front candidate in the second round than left-wing voters to support a candidate on the right opposing a National Front candidate in the second round, the effect is (highly likely to be) the same. Unless things go differently this time. And why, in the era of Brexit and Trump, wouldn’t they?

One reason is that Marine Le Pen is the product of an earlier time. Another is that she really doesn’t stand for anything terribly tangible. She is trying on the mantle of the French Trump today. A few months ago she was auditioning for the French Farage. Her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen) used to like being the French Reagan in the 80’s, when being for deregulation and free markets was counter-cultural. Insofar as she has policies (largely yet to come for this election) they are protectionist, welfarist, and statist. Her nationalism is not Donald Trump’s nationalism: that there is no room for prejudice in patriotism is not a sentiment that would come easily to her. Although she may well adopt it in the weeks ahead.

That her positions and policies are difficult to pin down is not so much a fault as the very essence of the Front National. It was invented to be the acceptable face of the extreme right (although I don’t think that conventional description is terribly useful), and the (then) young and (relatively) high-profile Jean Le Pen (as he was at the time) was recruited to become its face. A cast of rogues – former resistance fighters, former Nazis, former communists etc. – was involved in the founding. Over time the FN became a subsidiary of Le Pen, and the Le Pen brand (arguably) more valuable than the FN one. But political parties don’t live on votes, they live on engaged volunteers (particularly in places where there is little money in politics). And engaged folks at the extremes of the political spectrum have strongly held, and strongly differentiated, views. Cue the Monty Python skit. The FN sort of floats over an ever-mutating sea of fissioning and fusing groupuscules, careful never to have too defined an ideology that could set the whole of the right of the right against it.

Of course, the sort of people who take extreme politics seriously are hardly likely to appeal to the median voter, so the FN has a practice of recruiting non-party-members – local celebrities, for example – to actually stand in elections. It is highly successful – in getting into the second round, where it is usually (although not always) beaten by the left rallying behind the candidate of the (center) right, or vice versa.

One arguably Trumpian aspect of the FN is the co-dependent relationship it has with the media. Ever since President Mitterand encouraged the state-owned TV stations to include Jean-Marie Le Pen in their coverage, there hasn’t been a political phenomenon covered with more assiduity, one might say obsession, anywhere in the world. This sick fascination consistently gives the FN a media profile well in excess of its actual importance – until it becomes important precisely because of its media profile. The coverage tends to be of the “aren’t they awful” sort when it isn’t telling the soap opera story of the Le Pen family. The FN responds by providing the media with an ongoing narrative of “normalisation”, expelling a member here, excommunicating a splinter-group there.

The consistent failure of the media to treat the FN as a (fringe) political party, preferring to treat it as an abnormal sociological phenomenon, gives it and Marine Le Pen the perfect cover. Nothing the media says now about how awful the FN is has much resonance any more, because it has been saying so at the top of its voice for decades. The media is the opposition party – along with every other party, of course. (At least, usually.) So Le Pen is free to be wildly inconsistent. And she is.

Could Marine Le Pen win the Presidency? Perhaps. It would need the left to coalesce around a candidate so massively unacceptable to the right that they stayed away in vast numbers or pulled the lever for the FN candidate just to screw them. Alternatively, it would require the candidate standing against her in the second round to have a complete meltdown between the rounds – a scandal so compromising no-one of good conscience could vote for such a person. Putting it another way, for Marine Le Pen to win, she would have to be competing with someone worse than Bernie Sanders, or someone worse than Hillary Clinton.

Would a Le Pen victory be good for France? Almost certainly not. There are no Rex Tillersons, Mad Dog Mattis’s or Jeff Sessions’s waiting to form her government. There is (as yet?) no clear vision of what France is, or what making it great again might mean, that could unite the people – or any substantial group of them – behind her. Enacting (what is likely to be) her program would entrench welfarism and statism even further. Even on the Euro and the EU her position is fatally fuzzy.

Would a Le Pen victory be good for the US? Unlikely. A France distracted by the peculiar and competing nationalisms of the FN’s milieu is unlikely to be a steady ally. (This is not so say a Macron or Hamon victory would be good for the US, either. Perhaps on balance they would be better – but I am wary of this sort of argument.) The National Front does not share values with the GOP or with Donald Trump. Even if Steve Bannon wishes they did.

Watching what happens in France will be fascinating. It may even be important. But rooting for Marine Le Pen in the hope that we – or they – get Donald Trump would be terribly misconceived.

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  1. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Wow. Thanks so much genferei!

    Do you have any recommendations on best places to get news coverage of France in English? My French is tres rusty.

    (Love your tag — and also how you are so solution-minded!)

    • #1
  2. Publius Inactive
    Publius
    @Publius

    Thanks for posting this. It was really well written and informative. Hopefully it rockets into the main feed today where it deserves to be.

    • #2
  3. I Feel Like A Woman But I Vote Like A Man Inactive
    I Feel Like A Woman But I Vote Like A Man
    @Pseudodionysius

    I’d like some tips on women’s day wear as this outfit gets annoying after a long day at the office.

    • #3
  4. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I Feel Like A Woman But I Vote Like A Man (View Comment):

    I’d like some tips on women’s day wear as this outfit gets annoying after a long day at the office.

    • #4
  5. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    Do you have any recommendations on best places to get news coverage of France in English?

    I’m afraid I don’t.

    If anyone else has suggestions – please share!

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    genferei: Insofar as she has policies (largely yet to come for this election) they are protectionist, welfarist, and statist.

    Sounds like Hillary, with the modification that the “protectionism” would be in favor of those who paid the Clinton Foundation protection.

    • #6
  7. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    I like “Watching what happens in France will be fascinating. It may even be important.” I also like the tag. Tag Creativity is a good thing. (And Tag Veracity is even better.)

    • #7
  8. lilibellt Inactive
    lilibellt
    @lilibellt

    france24 International News 24/7

    I will try to provide more news sources later. But I regularly go to france24 to get an rather unbiased overview about events in France.

    Here are two interesting debates about current events:
    France’s PenelopeGate: Presidential race upended by scandal
    Romania’s Boiling Point: Outrage over decree to loosen corruption laws (wonder about the accuracy, @titustechera? The events in Bukarest don’t get wide coverage in the German speaking media, but I assume that Romania and France have a closer relationship, not at least because of language similarities?)

    It will be interesting to see if Breitbart actually will be launching sites in Germany and France and how this will impact the elections coming up in both countries in 2017.

    • #8
  9. lilibellt Inactive
    lilibellt
    @lilibellt

    If my English was better I would do a post about the “nouvelle droite”. This phenomen partly corresponds with the alt right movement in America. Here’s an article in the Daily Beast. Maybe @titustechera can help out?

     

    • #9
  10. lilibellt Inactive
    lilibellt
    @lilibellt

    There seems to have been a terrorist attack in the Louvre.

    Video France24

    CNN reports

    • #10
  11. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    lilibellt (View Comment): There seems to have been a terrorist attack in the Louvre.

    Well, someone with a machete having a go at soldiers patrolling the shopping center under the Louvre.

    Donald is on the case: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/827499871011819520

     

     

    • #11
  12. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    lilibellt (View Comment):
    There seems to have been a terrorist attack in the Louvre.

    Video France24

    CNN reports

    Lili,

    From Lili’s CNN link

    The attacker was wearing two backpacks and may have had a second weapon, Cadot said. He was seriously injured by a bullet to the stomach. One soldier was slightly injured on the scalp.

    No explosives were found in the two backpacks of the man, who was conscious when he was taken into custody, Cadot said.

    This is why the let’s not get excited attitude plus the let’s second guess the police after the fact attitude is so false in these situations. A man with a machete & backpack is trying to literally hack his way into a very high profile public place. Ultimately, it was discovered that there were no explosives in the backpack. Yet, how many times has the reverse been true? Once again the signature Allahu akbar was screamed by the madman. This is almost a fingerprint (nothing is ever 100%) of a Jihadist suicide murderer. The police had almost no time. If the backpack had a plastic explosive charge in it, 100 people or more could be dead. The police fired properly. Fortunately or Unfortunately depending on your point of view, the Jihadist is still alive.

    Politicians who continue to play fast & loose with these events will continue to strengthen Le Pen’s hand. This has nothing to do with the so-called alt right or conservative pundits exaggerating the threat. When you have mad people trying to murder your citizens you stop them with the force that is necessary.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
  13. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Really informative and well written.

    • #13
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    lilibellt (View Comment):
    If my English was better I would do a post about the “nouvelle droite”. This phenomen partly corresponds with the alt right movement in America. Here’s an article in the Daily Beast. Maybe titustechera can help out?

    I’m your huckleberry!

    • #14
  15. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    lilibellt (View Comment):
    If my English was better I would do a post about the “nouvelle droite”. This phenomen partly corresponds with the alt right movement in America. Here’s an article in the Daily Beast. Maybe titustechera can help out?

    I’m your huckleberry!

    I’ve always wondered if Titus was a Micheaiste.

    • #15
  16. Stephen Bishop Inactive
    Stephen Bishop
    @StephenBishop

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    Wow. Thanks so much genferei!

    Do you have any recommendations on best places to get news coverage of France in English? My French is tres rusty.

    (Love your tag — and also how you are so solution-minded!)

    Go here in your google chrome browser.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_France

    Make a pick and then right click and choose Translate. Job done!!

     

     

    • #16
  17. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    I am always amazed at how much influence the election format differences have on party breakdowns in places with more than two significant parties. Very different dynamics occur in the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, and Australia.

    • #17
  18. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Let us not also forget that Ms. Le Pen is literally in debt to the Russians.

    • #18
  19. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Would Americans ever care about French politics?

    • #19
  20. lilibellt Inactive
    lilibellt
    @lilibellt

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    Do you have any recommendations on best places to get news coverage of France in English? My French is tres rusty.

    Since I myself have to get up to speed on the French elections, I can only offer some more mainstream publications for now:
    the local
    The Paris Guardian
    ARTE
    is a German-French broadcast channel and offers also many documentaries with English subtitles (politically left-leaning) – e.g. France’s State Of Emergency
    For those who speak/understand French, here’s an interview with another candidate not mentioned in the OP,  “France’s Bernie Sanders” Jean-Luc Mélenchon (former Co-President of the Left Party). Jean-Jacques Bourdin (a Bill O’Reilly-type talk radio broadcaster – surely more statist/leftist in his political views, but who in France isn’t?) has done interviews with the other candidates as well (easy to find on youtube).

    • #20
  21. lilibellt Inactive
    lilibellt
    @lilibellt

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Let us not also forget that Ms. Le Pen is literally in debt to the Russians.

    True (and it is clearly better not to be endebted to Russia), but it looks like in any case there will be a Russia friendly government in France:

    French Candidate Macron wants closer ties with Russia
    Putin, meanwhile, has called Fillon “outstanding.

    • #21
  22. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Thank you for this update.  I am disheartened that Francois Fillon is “tanking.”  I had put hope in him.  Now I guess I’ll have to pull for Le Pen, but somehow I would be surprised if she won.  But if Donald Trump can win, anything is possible.

    • #22
  23. fidelio102 Inactive
    fidelio102
    @fidelio102

    @genferei obviously follows French politics closely and I agree with a large part of his analysis.  We would part company on two issues (three if you count the spelling of ‘kooky’).

    The Front National of Marine Le Pen is a very different proposition from the party presided by her father, Jean-Marie.  NOT because of its policy, NOR because it contains many governing-class politicians (as @genferei rightly points out).

    What HAS changed since 2002 is that the traditional working-class voters who voted either Communist or Socialist (and the working-class still exists in France) until the end of the 1990’s still have nowhere to go.  Neither Hamon nor Macron (who is an intellectual with some appeal for the ‘intelligentsia’ who make most of the noise in France) is going to attract the workers’ votes.  Marine Le Pen may be the only real politician in the Front National, but she is very canny.

    It is unlikely that she will win the second round but for her to be beaten will require the full demonizing forces of the French media to rally round whomsoever comes second to Le Pen in the first round.

    The result is NOT a foregone conclusion.

     

     

     

     

    • #23
  24. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Fillon will bounce back. Plenty of time to fudge the issue. Plus he is Putin’s man, no?

    • #24
  25. JLocked Inactive
    JLocked
    @CrazyHorse

    Great post. The newest disconcerting trend from the media (for me) is its turn from over-eager donnybrook to careless and sophomoric historic parallels. Most irksome is the WWII assertions that we are following suit in the wartime governance Europe has fallen into in the past. While these realities may yet still come to pass for France and Poland, our’s is not a Nation-state and has a much stronger immune system for many reasons economic and constitutional that I don’t need to stipulate to the likes of y’all. My liberal friends and family have fallen under the doomsaying spell of MSM, I continue to advise them to read Madison’s federalist papers (namely #10) for the girding the Constitution provides in all events of destruction that the Human Personality might visit it.

    • #25
  26. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Woe betide us if the French ever agree on who is the smartest Frenchman in the room.

    What am I saying???

    ;-)

    Seriously, fracture and political chaos among the French doesn’t worry me much.

    Thanks for the post, g.

    • #26
  27. Ario IronStar Inactive
    Ario IronStar
    @ArioIronStar

    “Marine Le Pen Is not Donald Trump in a Dress.”

    How do you know?  Have you ever seen them in the same room together?

    • #27
  28. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Ario IronStar (View Comment):
    “Marine Le Pen Is not Donald Trump in a Dress.”

    How do you know? Have you ever seen them in the same room together?

    You’re thinking about Mr. Rudy Giuliani-

    • #28
  29. Brian McMenomy Inactive
    Brian McMenomy
    @BrianMcMenomy

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Ario IronStar (View Comment):
    “Marine Le Pen Is not Donald Trump in a Dress.”

    How do you know? Have you ever seen them in the same room together?

    You’re thinking about Mr. Rudy Giuliani-

    Now, that’s good…

    • #29
  30. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Image result for giuliani in drag

    • #30
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