Pattern of populism: Pay attention to French candidate Le Pen
Everyone needs to take notice of what is happening in France and the possibilities for the upcoming French presidential election.
Marine Le Pen is making an impact on the election. The woman The Atlantic magazine coyly nicknamed “The Devil’s Daughter” in a 2013 article (the devil in this case is Le Pen’s father) has a real shot at making it to the runoff. While most experts looking at the situation think that she’ll ultimately lose, that doesn’t mean she does not or will not matter.
To understand why Le Pen is important, you have to take a look back. Le Pen is the leader of the National Front, a French right-wing political party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a universally hated public racist. Marine Le Pen took over the National Front in 2011 and has worked vigorously to change the perception and nature of the party. This is incredibly important because she’s done exactly that, and young people are flocking to the National Front.
You also have to look at the rise of populism and nationalism in 2016. First, there was the Brexit, led by Nigel Farage, who is now a Trump ally. Then, Donald Trump was elected as president, riding the odd wave of support he collected throughout a year and a half of campaigning.
Now, maybe you can chalk Brexit up to the fact that the UK has always been somewhat independent of the EU; the UK never adopted the euro as its currency, and the UK is not part of mainland Europe. Maybe you can chalk the other big win for populism and nationalism—Trump’s victory—up to a normal change in the ruling party and the fact that Clinton ran a terrible campaign. But once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern. Marine Le Pen is the continuation of the pattern.
This is a big deal. Such a pattern of populism proves that no matter how much everyday people and the media say Trump was an anomaly, it’s not necessarily true. Le Pen wants to take a harder stance on immigration. She wants to restore French pride (Make France Great Again?). She is the anti-globalism candidate, as she speaks against the EU. The French Rust Belt seems to be getting behind Le Pen and could help decide the presidency. This also means that the Brexit fever has migrated. There was speculation after Brexit that the EU exits weren’t done. Some of the smaller, less integrated states would vote to leave.
Le Pen is very different from Trump in one way—she is openly trying to bring together a coalition of socialists (who are not very happy with their own party at the moment) and those on the right. It’s weird and unexpected, but it ultimately is working in favor of the National Front and Le Pen. She also disagrees with Trump on social issues, which is most likely due to her “Frenchness.”
Le Pen will probably win the first ballot, or at least come in a close second. She’ll also probably lose on the second ballot, as a candidate with a broader range of support challenges her one-on-one. Either way she will have made an impact, not only in France, but throughout the rest of Europe.
But maybe she will win and change the course of European history. Weirder things have happened in the past year.
Assistant opinion editor Jorden Smith is a political science and creative writing junior and can be reached at [email protected]