Le Pen Will Have Changed France Even If She Loses

Le Pen Will Have Changed France Even If She Loses
French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen delivers a speech, May 1, 2017, Villepinte, France (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Wednesday’s vicious presidential debate ahead of Sunday’s election in France did little to improve the public image of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. In a flurry of factually dubious assertions about her centrist opponent, Emmanuel Macron, she struggled to offer a clear political platform, instead railing against free trade and demonizing Muslims. Her dismal performance, coupled with endorsements for Macron from across France’s political spectrum, is likely to seal her defeat come Sunday. But Le Pen and her movement will remain relevant for French politics.

The first round of the election sidelined France’s mainstream parties from the presidential runoff in a decisive rejection of the political establishment. Sunday’s vote will be the first time in France’s Fifth Republic that neither mainstream candidate—from the Socialists, on the left, or the Republicans, on the right—is present in the final vote.

It will not, however, be the first time that a candidate from Le Pen’s National Front (FN) party has gotten to that point. In 2002, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the racist firebrand notorious for calling the Holocaust a “detail of history,” shocked the country by making it into the runoff against then-President Jacques Chirac. His success in the first round caused widespread indignation that led to his resounding defeat in the second round, in which he garnered less than 20 percent of the vote.

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