French Presidential Election Déjà Vu

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The first round of France’s presidential election on April 10 ended with President Emmanuel Macron coming in first, with just under 28 percent of the vote. As in 2017, his opponent in the second round on April 24 will be Marine Le Pen (“MLP”), the Rassemblement National (“National Rally”) candidate, who won 23.1 percent of the vote. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of the hard-left La France Insoumise (“France Unbowed”), came in a close third, with 22 percent.
Five years ago, Macron convincingly beat Le Pen in the second round by taking two-thirds of the vote. This feat is unlikely to be repeated. An aggregate of electoral polls collected by Politico predicts that Macron will win in the second round by up to six percentage points, though a poll by IFOP taken after the first round showed the incumbent winning reelection by a very slim margin (51 percent to 49 percent). 
Le Pen’s strategists hope that their candidate has a fighting chance to catch up with Macron in the next 10 days. They point out that the old phenomenon known as the cordon sanitaire—with voters holding their noses and voting for a mainstream candidate they do not support or even like, just to prevent the “far right” from winning—is no longer as likely to take place as it was in 2017, when the entire establishment closed ranks behind Macron.
Even though Le Pen is still routinely described as “far-right” by the media and by Macron himself, the designation is demonstrably incorrect, and it no longer has the same scary ring as it did five years ago. Many voters who do not necessarily support MLP, now accept that she is a regular French patriot, who is opposed to rampant immigration but not obsessive about that issue. In recent years she has worked hard to extend her appeal to those voters who worry about inflation and who dislike Macron’s image as a member of the plutocratic elite class, the “president of the rich.” Le Pen has also distanced herself from President Vladimir Putin following his attack on Ukraine, but reasonably enough, she points out that Russia should be treated as a partner once the fighting is over and a political settlement is reached.
Le Pen’s prospects in the second round have been improved by the candidacy of Éric Zemmour, the author of the hugely important 2014 book, Le Suicide Français, and whose party has the evocative name of Reconquête (“reconquest”). Zemmour won 7.1 percent of the vote, and after the count, he immediately urged his supporters to vote for Le Pen in the second round. By focusing on what used to be Le Pen’s primary themes—immigration, and law and order—and by assailing woke capitalism, Zemmour has helped “normalize” Le Pen. At the same time, he has electrified many voters who were unhappy with her mainstream drive but who will nevertheless vote for her, come April 24. From the vantage point of a cynical election strategist, this looks like a win-win situation for Le Pen.
Last but not least, even among the supporters of Mélenchon—most of whom are likely to abstain in the second round—there appears to be a surprisingly large contingent who do not exclude the possibility of voting for Le Pen. This is especially remarkable considering that Mélenchon enjoys the undivided support of the sizeable Arab-Islamist community, none of whom will ever vote for Le Pen. According to an IFOP poll taken on election day, 44 percent of Mélenchon supporters say they will abstain in the second round, and this group likely contains most of his Muslim supporters. Among the rest, a third say they would back Macron, while nearly a quarter would support Le Pen. This result aligns generally with the findings of a recent Ipsos poll that showed half of Mélenchon’s voters without a preference between Le Pen and Macron, and the rest breaking 18 percent to 31 percent in Macron’s favor.
A remarkable feature of the French political scene is that two traditionally strong parties—Socialists and Republicans—as well as Greens and Communists, have suffered catastrophic defeats. All of them have fallen below 5 percent of the vote, with Socialist Anne Hidalgo scoring a paltry 1.7 percent. This brings into question their future viability, because parties which fall below the 5-percent threshold will not have their campaign expenses reimbursed by the state. This in itself may be the single best piece of news to come from last Sunday’s election, since all four parties are utterly worthless and rotten to the core. A great reset of French politics is preferable to the grim German scenario, in which the Social Democrats, Liberals, and Greens preside over their nation’s terminal demographic, social, and moral demise.  
Whoever wins on April 24, France will remain a former European superpower which professes that it still has a destiny as a nation of global import. The République may be described as an elective realm ruled by regicidal monarchists with an ecumenical mission: une idée with a grand history behind it, which nurtures symbols and narratives far greater than its geographic space and economic might would suggest possible. Unlike America’s kitschy exceptionalism backed by raw might, the Gallic arrogance is still dressed as elegance. It is a state of soul, a quest for significance rather than dominance. To that end, ever since General Charles De Gaulle entered Paris in August 1944, la France étérnelle has had to simulate grandeur that is beyond her station by any quantitative reckoning. 
De Gaulle once confided to a friend: “I am on a stage and I pretend to believe it; I make believe that France is a great country. It is a perpetual illusion.” Marine Le Pen would make that illusion far more convincing than Emmanuel Macron has done.
left: Emmanuel Macron at the Tallinn Digital Summit in 2017 (Arno Mikkor via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0). right: Marine Le Pen (Foto-AG Gymnasium Melle via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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