Le Pen Unveils New Name, Trump Toes NRA Line

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016 (European Parliament)

Marine Le Pen has proposed to change the name of her far-right party from Front National to Rassemblement National (National Rally).

The rebranding follows a disappointing performance in last year’s presidential election, when Le Pen placed a distant second with 34 percent support to Emmanuel Macron’s 66 percent.

“Originally, we were a protest party,” Le Pen told delegates in the northern French town of Lille on Sunday. ”There must be no doubt in the eyes of all that we are now a governing party.”

To accomplish that, the Front must change more than its name; it must change its beliefs.

I argued after the 2017 election that the Front stood most to gain from becoming a socially, as opposed to a national, conservative party. With the defection of center-right, pro-market Republicans to Macron, there is even more of a vacuum on what in American terms could be called the “Christian right”.

But Republicans know it. They have made Laurent Wauquiez their leader, a social conservative and hardliner on immigration, in order to woo those same voters. If the Republicans turn into Front-lite, does is still make sense for the Front to become Republicans+?

Somebody who is definitively not helping: Steve Bannon, the far-right American firebrand who this weekend urged the Front to wear accusations of racism and xenophobia as a “badge of honor”. Read more

French Parties Must Figure Out How to Survive in the Era of Macron

Emmanuel Macron arrives at the Elysée Palace in Paris for his inauguration as president of France, May 14, 2017
Emmanuel Macron arrives at the Elysée Palace in Paris for his inauguration as president of France, May 14, 2017 (Elysée/Nathalie Bauer)

Emmanuel Macron has redrawn the political map of France.

There used to be two major parties, one of the center-left (Socialists) and one of the center-right (Republicans), with smaller parties on the far left and far right. Macron’s centrist project, La République En Marche!, has thrown them all in disarray.

  • France Unbowed is a new far-left party cobbled together by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former communist. Although an improvement over the once hopelessly divided politics of the far left, it doesn’t get more than 20 percent support.
  • For the Socialists, there isn’t much room between France Unbowed on the left and Macron in the center. Their support is in the single digits.
  • The Republicans are similarly caught between Macron on the one hand and the National Front on the other, but at least they still have a substantial base of around 20 percent.
  • The National Front probably hit its ceiling in the 2017 presidential election, when Marine Le Pen got 34 percent support in the second voting round against Macron. Read more

French Right Struggles to Unite Against Macron

French Republican leader Laurent Wauquiez attends a memorial ceremony in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, November 9
French Republican leader Laurent Wauquiez attends a memorial ceremony in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, November 9 (Facebook)

France’s two right-wing parties are struggling to remain united in the era of Emmanuel Macron.

  • Lawmakers friendly to the president have split from the center-right Republicans to form a new party, Agir (Act).
  • Prominent Republicans, like Bruno Le Maire and Édouard Philippe, have joined Macron’s government.
  • More centrists are expected to defect if the hardliner Laurent Wauquiez prevails in a party leadership vote next month.
  • The far right is also divided: Marine Le Pen’s former right-hand man, Florian Philippot, has created a new party to appeal to blue-collar workers in the rust belt of northern France while the rest of the National Front is focused on its heartland in the socially conservative southeast. Read more

Why Marine Le Pen Turned on Her Right-Hand Man

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, November 25, 2015
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, November 25, 2015 (European Parliament)

Florian Philippot’s ouster from the National Front makes political sense.

Philippot was for years Marine Le Pen’s right-hand man. Together they transformed the reactionary party, which has deep roots in the French Algerian exile community, into a broad Euroskeptic and nativist force that could appeal to rust-belt voters.

They de-demonized the National Front. Le Pen won 34 percent support in this year’s presidential election, doubling her father’s record from fifteen years ago.

But it still wasn’t enough. Read more

National Front Has Most to Gain from Becoming Conservative

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, listens to a news conference in Brussels, June 16, 2015
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, listens to a news conference in Brussels, June 16, 2015 (European Parliament)

France’s National Front will have to reinvent itself after a disappointing election result on Sunday.

The nationalists were hoping to get 40 percent support or more in the presidential runoff, but Marine Le Pen got stuck at 34 percent. Still double her father’s performance when he qualified for the second voting round in 2002, but a letdown nonetheless.

In her concession speech, Le Pen promised voters “profound reform” of her party in order to create “a new political force” for all French “patriots” who oppose the globalism of Emmanuel Macron, the incoming president.

Whether this means starting a new party or rebranding the National Front remains to be seen, but change is in the air. With it could come a struggle for the movement’s identity. Read more

French National Front Could Emerge Stronger from Defeat

Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Front national, listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Claude Truong-Ngoc)

From a European point of view, the French have avoided the nightmare outcome of a presidential runoff between Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen. But Europe’s political elite should not celebrate too soon.

It is more than probable that Emmanuel Macron will beat Le Pen in the second voting round, yet this might be the best possible outcome for the leader of the National Front.

As Donald Trump is discovering in America, it is often more fun to be the populist outsider than to be in power. A President Le Pen would have limited scope for causing foreign-policy chaos, but, with a massive majority against her in the National Assembly, she would have little prospect of delivering on her electoral promises. Her administration would almost certainly end in failure and the Front National would once again be relegated to the fringes of French politics. Read more

The Programs of France’s Presidential Candidates Compared

Polls suggest five candidates stand a chance of qualifying for the crucial second voting round in France’s presidential election next month.

They range from the far left to the far right, but a look at their policies suggests that these categories may have outlived their usefulness. Read more