Marine Le Pen’s woes worsen as her French far-right rival overwhelms her
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Marine Le Pen had long been preparing for her second presidential face-to-face with Emmanuel Macron next spring when a political newcomer disrupted his plans.
As late as September 12, as opinion polls suggested the veteran far-right and the French president were, as in 2017, the best candidates likely to reach the second and final round of voting in April. , she explained what she considered to be a simple vote: “The French want this choice between him and me. It really is a choice between globalism and nationalism.
Then came Eric Zemmour. The right-wing television polemicist, who has yet to officially declare that he is a presidential candidate, has launched an assault on public opinion that has confused the electoral calculations.
While support for Zemmour among voters for the first round has fallen from 7% the first time he was included by Harris Interactive three weeks ago to 13% now, support for Le Pen has plummeted from 23% to 16% last month. . Zemmour is also close to voting at the same level as the third candidate Xavier Bertrand of the center-right Republicans, who is at 14%. Macron remained stable at 23%.
Zemmour was a new element in what until then seemed an obsolete campaign, said Christèle Lagier, assistant professor of politics at the University of Avignon. “If his candidacy becomes real, it will hurt the right and the far right,” she said.
When Le Pen launched her campaign in the Mediterranean town of Fréjus just a few weeks ago, she rejected his chances as a presidential hopeful, calling him a “third candidate” who would disappear like so many before.
“I am always happy that there are additional candidates who are starting to say the things that we have been saying for 20 years,” Le Pen said. “There have always been marginal candidates.
Zemmour, however, is no longer marginal, say political scientists. Fueled by advertising from a prime-time TV talk show, a dedicated YouTube channel and a new book, Zemmour has launched arson attacks on Muslim immigration and what he sees as the decline. of French civilization. He has been convicted twice for racial or religious comments.
Le Pen’s problem with Zemmour is that while he’s not afraid of aggressive opinions, she has moderate her tone in an attempt to ‘detoxify’ her party in an attempt to win over traditional center-right and former voters. Communists since she inherited the party from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, ten years ago.
On immigration, as Le Pen proposed a referendum on identity, citizenship and immigration control, Zemmour called for a ban on foreign names like Mohammed and said he would favor the return of 2 million foreigners in their country of origin.
This week, when asked about the lessons of labor shortages and the need for foreign labor in post-Brexit Britain, Le Pen even said she was not an ideologue and that ‘it would accept the need for foreign labor in the French sectors that demanded it. “If my country, France, needs immigrants, so be it,” she said.
“Many think his ‘detox’ policy is the wrong one,” political scientist Vincent Martigny said. “It has to stick to a fairly radical line so as not to lose its supporters, but it also has to open up to attract new voters. This has always been his dilemma.
Le Pen’s rebranding had limited impact. Many voters who see themselves as center-right – those who have supported disgraced center-right politician Francois Fillon in his failed 2017 presidential bid – may be inclined to support Zemmour even if his views are more extreme than those of Le Pen, according to analysts. .
They say it’s because Le Pen carries the baggage of his party’s past, rooted in anti-Semitism, while Zemmour – of Algerian Jewish descent – comes across as a well-articulated Parisian intellectual.
“Those who support the LR are extremely close in many ways to those of the Front National. [the old name for Le Pen’s Rassemblement National], said Martigny. “But they don’t want to ally with the FN, because ‘they are racist and we are acceptable people’.”
Jean-Yves Camus, specialist in extremism, shares the views of supporters of Fillon. “There are voters who are willing to switch to someone who is pro-free market, an intellectual, yet very tough on immigration and so on.”
If Zemmour managed to eradicate Le Pen in the second round, this could paradoxically hamper Macron, who was counting on another easy victory in the second round to be reelected. The president could face someone like center-right Bertrand who, according to polls, has a better chance of beating him than Le Pen.
At the moment, however, the main victim of Zemmour’s rise is Le Pen. “Everyone knows Marine Le Pen can’t win” is one of Zemmour’s favorite phrases, and the person who works the hardest to make this happen is none other than Zemmour himself.