Le Pen Unveils New Name, Trump Toes NRA Line

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 “Le Pen Unveils New Name, Trump Toes NRA Line”

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

Emmanuel Macron
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 Parties Must Figure Out How to Survive in Era of Macron”

French Right Struggles to Unite Against Macron

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 “French Right Struggles to Unite Against Macron”

Why Marine Le Pen Turned on Her Right-Hand Man

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

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 “Why Marine Le Pen Turned on Her Right-Hand Man”

National Front Has Most to Gain from Becoming Conservative

Marine Le Pen
French party leader Marine Le Pen makes her way to a news conference in Strasbourg, May 11, 2016 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

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 “National Front Has Most to Gain from Becoming Conservative”

French National Front Could Emerge Stronger from Defeat

Marine Le Pen
French National Front leader Marine Le Pen 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 “French National Front Could Emerge Stronger from Defeat”

Programs of the French Presidential Candidates, Compared

Marine Le Pen
French party leader Marine Le Pen makes her way to a news conference in Strasbourg, May 11, 2016 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

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.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen are supposed to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet they make common cause against the European Union and NATO.

The center-right Republican candidate, François Fillon, shares their friendly attitudes toward Russia. But Fillon sides with the left-wing Benoît Hamon and the center-left Emmanuel Macron in arguing for a more political eurozone.

Le Pen’s economic policies have more in common with the left than the mainstream right. Fillon and Macron, on the other hand, share proposals for labor reform — but they have very different social views. The Republican is a Catholic and social conservative who agrees with Le Pen that the French ought to protect their identity. The independent Macron is socially liberal and pro-immigration.

All candidates want cleaner energy, but whereas Fillon, Macron and Le Pen see nuclear as part of the solution, Hamon and Mélenchon want to phase it out alongside fossil fuels.

Here is an overview of the signature policies of all five candidates. Read more “Programs of the French Presidential Candidates, Compared”

Neither Macron Nor Le Pen May Win Legislative Majority

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The sun sets on the Bourbon Palace, seat of the French National Assembly, in Paris, June 8, 2007 (J.R. Rosenberg)

Neither of the two frontrunners in the French presidential election is likely to win a majority in the National Assembly, which would make it hard for them to govern.

The centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen are neck and neck in the polls for the first voting round this month. Macron is expected to prevail in the second round.

A former economy minister under François Hollande, Macron left the Socialist Party last year to start his own movement.

Le Pen leads the anti-EU and anti-immigrant National Front, which currently has just two out 577 seats in the French parliament. Read more “Neither Macron Nor Le Pen May Win Legislative Majority”

The Forces Shaping the French Election: Populism, Pride and Prejudice

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View of Paris, France from Montmartre, October 2, 2016 (Unsplash/Colin Maynard)

And why is it so critical? Nothing less than the European Union is at stake — and with it, the geopolitical contract that has bound Germany and France together since World War II.

After the defeat of anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders early this month in the Netherlands, it is reasonable to ask if populism as shaped by the alt-right has hit its limit. Europeans have watched the confusion in Britain over Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Now they are revisiting both their Euroskepticism and their willingness to gamble on ideologies not yet fully tested.

Yet France is subject to powerful forces quite different than the Netherlands, which has only a fraction of its population and international obligations. A large, unassimilated Muslim and African population simmers; an aging, conservative voter base roils; a discredited, weakened left wavers; and nobody knows what to do with the neoliberal threads that hold together the European Union yet impoverish just about anyone not in the upper classes.

All these factors make France a combustible mix of alt-right populism, weakened mainstream parties, terror cells, angry youth and dithering establishment elites. If we were shocked by Brexit, we should be less shocked by whatever happens next month as the French go to vote. France is as upended as everyone else. 2017 compares to the turmoil of the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958. Read more “The Forces Shaping the French Election: Populism, Pride and Prejudice”

The Global History of the Alt-Right

Matteo Salvini Marine Le Pen Harald Vilimsky Michał Marusik
Far-right party leaders Matteo Salvini of Italy, Marine Le Pen of France, Harald Vilimsky of Austria and Michał Marusik of Poland give a news conference in Strasbourg, May 11, 2016 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

When I was a teenager, I had to drive my older brother to downtown Phoenix. He couldn’t drive himself; he’d made a series of poor life choices, so it fell to me, the relatively responsible one, to ferry him about.

As we drove, he ranted to me about blacks, Mexicans and Jews, using all the tried and true tropes of the traditional white-supremacist right — tossing in, for my “education,” that the Bible had given blacks over to whites as slave-animals. When we pulled up to our destination, a Mexican guy was hanging out on the Phoenix equivalent of a stoop; my brother would have to pass by the guy. I asked him, in that teenaged point-blank manner, what he thought of the man.

“Oh no,” my brother replied. “He’s one of the good ones.” Switching off from racist extraordinaire, he proceeded to carry out his errand and have a light, polite chat with the very man whose race he’d spent much of our journey together trashing.

It was my first encounter with the doublethink that would swirl to become the alt-right. Read more “The Global History of the Alt-Right”