France. Xenophobic and far-right, but passionate about cats, the keys to the candidate who might surprise

PARIS.– Whatever the outcome of the next Sunday first round and in the ballot scheduled for April 24, the great winner of the French presidential elections will undoubtedly be the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen.

At the age of 54, on his third attempt to enter the Elysee Palace through the front door, The candidate of the Reunion National (RN) party has transformed her political strength into a real alternative of power: “If she does not win now, in five years it will be a very attractive hypothesis for the middle classes who have lost faith in the political class and who , so far, they have resisted the far-right vote for fear of the extremism of their positions ”, estimated the expert in electoral sociology Pascal Perrineau.

Marine Le Pen will go to the polls on Sunday with 22/23 percent of the vote, after growing at a rate of two points a week over the past month to get close to the president Emanuele Macron —Big favorite for his own re-election—, which is between 25 and 27% according to various polls. For the second round, scheduled for two weeks, the electoral institutes expect a very tight result in Macron’s favor (52 against 48%). But, taking into account the margins of error, they do not rule out “a surprise that for now is difficult to predict”, according to Frédéric Dabi, director general of the pollster Ipsos.

At the age of 54, on her third attempt to enter the Elysee Palace from the front door, candidate Marine Le Pen transformed her political force into a real power alternative
At the age of 54, on her third attempt to enter the Elysee Palace from the front door, candidate Marine Le Pen transformed her political force into a real power alternativeJEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN – AFP

With the same frivolity that allows him to launch unsupported statements and change positions with a smile, he reoriented his party’s ideology to give it a more moderate line, distanced from the xenophobic, anti-Islamist and anti-Semitic image that the National Front had. . (FN) founded by his father.

In any case, in the past five years he has managed to forget the embarrassing spectacle he gave in his 2017 televised debate against Macron and adopted a change of image: a rebranding, as advertisers say, to distance themselves from the toxic family brand. This abrupt turn allowed him to completely recycle his relationship with the voters and to adopt a style of closer proximity and better adapted to the sensitivity of public opinion.

In television interviews she began to show an even more humanized profile that led her to confess the “hard trials” she faced during her life, her new marriage failure in 2019 and her passion for cats, a fact. crucial in a country of 65 million inhabitants where there are 15 million cats and only 6.8 million dogs.

For the second round, scheduled for two weeks, the electoral institutes expect a very tight result in Macron's favor (52 against 48%)
For the second round, scheduled for two weeks, the electoral institutes expect a very tight result in Macron’s favor (52 against 48%)Jeremias Gonzalez – AP

The “betrayal” she has suffered in recent months when several high-level executives have emigrated to other parties, including her niece Marion Marechal, who sided with the candidacy of Eric Zemmour, the new fascist and anti-Islamist leader, emerged in French political life like a steamroller and is now ending the campaign with less than 10% voting intentions. Faced with the electoral threat of Zemmour, who has appropriated the question of immigration and the “great substitute” of the population, Marine Le Pen has moderated her attacks on foreigners and focused her campaign on issues that really concern the classes. lower: inflation, increase in food and fuel prices and loss of purchasing power.

His collaborators explain, with some astonishment, that this repositioning was not recommended by any group of advisers, but is the work of his own political nose. Since then, for some of his constituents he became “Marine”, as if he were a member of the family.

This attitude excused her from explaining the giant turn she took when she abandoned her newfound fervor for the euro – which she had previously stubbornly criticized – and her defense of the European Union (EU). Voters also do not criticize the emptiness of her program or the visible absence of a team to govern: “You have no people who occupy the ministries or the main positions in the state,” accuse her opponents. As if she were protected by a layer of Teflon, no charges have managed to dent her armor.

Despite his political and economic relations with President Vladimir Putin – who even interceded with several Russian banks so that the RN could finance his latest campaigns – he managed to distance himself when Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine and to deny its links with the Kremlin. without suffering any electoral damage. Now she, without blushing, introduces herself as a great admirer of President Volodomyr Zelensky and a friend of the Ukrainian people. In a double-sided comedy, he surprised by welcoming Ukrainian refugees – all white, Christian and well-trained – with open arms, which allowed him to wash away his xenophobic past and solidify his repositioning on Ukraine’s side of in the face of Putin’s aggression, a leader detested by over 85% of the French.

Eric Zemmour, the new fascist and anti-Islamist leader, has emerged in French political life like a steamroller and now closes the campaign with less than 10% voting intentions
Eric Zemmour, the new fascist and anti-Islamist leader, has emerged in French political life like a steamroller and now closes the campaign with less than 10% voting intentionsMichel Eulero – AP

Thanks to those pragmatic turns of the helm, he avoided being overwhelmed by the wave of Zemmour, a provocative leader who made all possible mistakes, such as being hostile to NATO and opposed to sanctions against Russia. “Zemmour’s extremism has left him a loophole to present moderation that doesn’t really exist,” said Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at Eurasia Group. She “benefited from the existence of even more extremist candidates in the campaign field,” says Rahman. “This created an impression of restraint where it doesn’t really exist,” he adds.

The proof is that, when the Russian invasion began on February 24, the two far-right rivals and right-wing conservative candidate Valérie Pecresse were separated by just three points in the polls. Now there is an abyss between them and Marine Le Pen who aspires – rightly – to win the votes of that whole sector.

Even if he loses against Macron on April 24, his consolidation could take place in the so-called “third round”, that is, in the legislative elections of 12 and 19 June. If he gets a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, he will have the tools to turn the next five-year presidential term into hell for Macron and make French voters finally lose their fear of Marine Le Pen as president … in 2027.

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